Lars von Trier’s Antichrist boasts some of the most breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography of any film this year, and is easily one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen. It tells the tale of an unnamed couple, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who hike to their secluded cabin in a pristine wood called Eden to struggle with their grief following the accidental death of their toddler son.
At this year’s Seattle One-Reel Film Festival, I saw a short film called Tara, whose horror I described as “simple, mundane, and rather cryptic“. Like this film, it was boring and ponderous for much of its runtime, but played deeply and effectively on male apprehension about the secrets of women.
Antichrist explores similar territory, but in a more severe, graphic, and haunting manner. He is a trained therapist, treating his wife for her grief and fear, despite the obvious conflict of interest of their marriage and continued sexual relationship. She blames herself for their son’s death, while He seems largely unaffected by it. Meanwhile, they are visited by a series of animal apparitions – Grief, in the form of a doe, Pain, in the form of a fox, and Despair, in the form of a trickster crow. These animals – who come to be known as the Three Beggars – are each profoundly disturbing in some way, and without spoiling too much, I’ll simply say that they effectively encapsulate their associated emotions. It’s unclear if these animals are real, a hallucination, or some combination of the two, but they nonetheless contribute a great deal to the unsettling and episodic nature of the story.
I must also note that von Trier has crafted a film that is unrelentingly misogynistic. Its thesis is spelled out clearly by its female lead, who declares in a singsong voice that “a woman crying is a woman scheming”. This is after She informs us that the bodies of women are ruled by nature rather than reason. Her subsequent actions thoroughly bear out this view of women, whom von Trier seems intent on casting as evil and sadistic by nature.
And yet, the evil and sadistic one may in fact be von Trier himself. The self-styled “best director in the world” sits in his lair thinking, “Ah ha! Watch the foolish, PC, and mostly male film critics leap to the defense of women…playing directly into my hands!” In truth, I can only speculate about von Trier’s motives for making this film, but the most consistent message that I received from it was utter disdain for the audience – male and female.
Antichrist balances precariously between brilliant, independent filmmaking and a “MADtv” parody thereof. The performances (particularly Gainsbourg’s) are fantastic, but bewildering. It features some ravishing cinematography, and yet contains enough gratuitous slow-motion to make even Zack Snyder blush. It also depicts (and fetishizes) graphic sexuality, violence, and combinations of the two, in ways that seem exclusively intended to support the film’s thesis about the evils of women. And what of this thesis? After days of pondering it, I must conclude… Of course women are schemers. People are schemers, and women are people, no matter what Lee Majors might say. And while I doubt von Trier is the world’s best director, he is certainly one of its greatest schemers.
I once said to a friend (amid an argument about Terry Gilliam’s classic dystopian film, Brazil) that anyone can disagree with me about a film, but they must never insult my ability to form a valid opinion about it. With Antichrist, von Trier has succeeded in creating the closest thing to a criticproof film that has ever been hatched.
You’ve done me a grave insult, von Trier, and for this, you get a mere 5.
And another point for unleashing my inner turmoil. Now get out of my sight, you arrogant bastard.
FilmWonk rating: 6 out of 10