Lars Von Trier
- Willem Dafoe as He
- Charlotte Gainsbourg as She
To say that the movies of Lars Von Trier are divisive and an acquired taste is a major understatement, and with Antichrist, it is no exception. Visceral and horrifying, yet often meandering and somewhat overloaded by too many ideas, Antichrist is certainly memorable for the intense performances, grisly content and atmosphere, yet is muddled and at times incoherent. It’s safe to say that this offering from Von Trier will provoke wildly differently opinions, including the one I will give.
An unnamed couple, only identified in the credits as He and She, open the movie by making love in the shower. Tragically, while in the throes of passion, their toddler son manages to climb up to an open window and falls to his death. The woman goes into a deep depression and blames herself for her son’s death, while the husband, who is a therapist, stifles his grief by analyzing his wife’s condition and attempting to treat her with psychotherapy. He tries to get her to talk about her fears and make them face them in order to carry on. One of her fears is the woods, specifically those near a cabin known as Eden, that she and her son visited in the summer past while she worked on a research paper centred on gynocide and society’s oppression of women. Her husband who thinks he can do better than other doctors in treating his wife and decides to take her to Eden to help her face what she is most afraid of. But going to Eden may have not been the best idea as the surrounding woods and nature itself seem ready for them. Soon strange and alarming visions for the husband and the manic behaviour of the wife, who believes that everything has turned evil, reach a fever pitch and chaos reigns for the both of them.
Going into Antichrist, I knew from watching other movies from Lars Von Trier, that it wasn’t going to be the most comfortable or heartwarming movie to watch. And I was right because Antichrist is a disturbing and stomach churning watch to say the very least. From what I’ve read, Von Trier was suffering from depression around the time of making the film and that potent emotion of darkness and desolation bleeds into a lot of frames within the movie. I must give him kudos for the way he crafts the unusual atmosphere and the way he employs striking( yet often unforgettably dark) images, in a way that reminded me of paintings. The cinematography can’t be praised highly enough, particularly in the scenes at Eden where the surrounding forest and forces of nature are made to resemble something out of an adult Grimm’s fairy tale. Yet for all these positives within the film, there are a number of things that are detrimental to it. Firstly, while I thought that some of the themes examined(such as extreme grief, evil and human nature gone awry) where potent and well executed, many others get lost in the mix and seem to appear then disappear without so much as an explanation. The violence throughout which is no doubt where many find a point of contention, is horrific and some of the most sickening torture and mutilation I’ve ever seen committed to film. But while they are unforgettable, the feeling overall is depraved and borders on gratuitous and utterly revolting. I wouldn’t say it is torture porn because the violence does have some purpose as the unnamed couple unravel and savagely turn on each other. But then the violence is thrown at us left, right and centre and the whole set up falls apart due to Von Trier not knowing when to stop. An ominous soundscape forms a terrifying backbone to the film that brings out the horror, despite Antichrist as a film not knowing what it quite wants to be and suffering because of it.
On thing that can’t be criticized in Antichrist is the willingness of the two main stars to surrender themselves to the extreme material. Both Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg turn in daring and brave performances, considering some of the things that the film calls for them to do. Willem Dafoe excellently portrays the stoic, closed of man who suppresses his own grief and puts it off, ultimately leading to an immense cauldron of emotions threatening to bubble over. Charlotte Gainsbourg is phenomenal in her part; embodying the suffocating grief, guilt and trauma of the character, she both startles and frightens with an intensely visceral performance that is hard to forget. The two actors are really the only people in the movie and boy do they deliver work that is provocative and memorable. It must have been hard performing in this movie, due to the extreme content and situations, but both stars get so in touch with the characters that it’s hard to see any nerves and thankfully their acting papers over some of the cracks in the film.
To summarise my thoughts on the controversial and experimental Antichrist, I’ll say that it is a flawed movie to be sure, but due to the performances from the leads and the visuals, it sure as hell made a disquieting impact on me, despite some of my ambivalence. Like of all of Von Trier’s work, Antichrist will cause discussion and differing opinions a plenty.