Antichrist – Criterion Collection

AntichristOh my! What can I possibly say about this movie? Let me start by advising anyone who gets easily offended to not watch this. In fact, even this review could run you off. It’s that extreme. I’ve seen a lot of explicit gorefests in my time, and even I winced through some of the more sensitive moments in this, von Trier’s latest work. This is probably one of the most controversial films I’ve watched in many moons. Very adults only. For starters, it only takes thirty seconds before the screen is filled with Willem Dafoe’s junk, or possibly Willem Dafoe’s stuntdouble’s junk, I’m not sure which. This is shortly followed by a slow motion shot of a toddler falling from a second story window. I won’t reveal every dubious detail, but suffice it to say that “sexual thriller” is an almost adequate genre for this film. Strictly speaking, there aren’t any literally pornographic scenes, but it does come right up to the threshold. I must admit that, as far as I’m concerned, the explicit sex is not what makes Antichrist cringeworthy. Really, even more that the scenes of genital mutilation, I was most disgusted to see Dafoe’s arm covered in ticks after a night of sleeping with the cabin window open.

I’ve painted a totally negative picture though, so I should note that under all the rampant genital shots is an interesting narrative. This is definitely the sort of movie that would require multiple viewings for a decent understanding, of which I have not partaken. Think Mulholland Drive with a linear structure, mixed with dirtier color schemes and less of a conscience for the MPAA. The whole movie revolves around the idea of gynocide; the killing of the child by the mother. We see this illustrated in nature among various animals, in particular through the theme driving fox who opens its jaws to groan “chaos reigns” upon being discovered eating its young; and also in the case of the lead female, who is credited simply as “she”. This character is played by an overwhelmingly unappealing Charlotte Gainsbourg who proclaims “Nature is Satan’s Church”. This is essentially a story of a mother who descends into several stages of evil and grief, and her unknowing husband who uncovers the truth as he tries to use his practice in the psychiatric field to help her heal. The thesis: women are by witches by nature, and their connection to Satan becomes apparent in their actions. And as much as I cannot stand Gainsbourg on a visceral level, she does do a fine job of cultivating her character’s descent into the most sanguine nervous breakdown known to woman (and not in the medical humors sense). As a viewer you could choose to interpret this on the logical level, that “she” is simply not coping well this the death of her child; or, you could interpret it on the metaphorical/occult level, which would suggest that “she” let her child die on purpose, as some service to chaos, nature, and emotional darkness. In other words, we are not naturally driven by good.  Regardless of one’s choice in interpreting the film, the outcome is disturbing.

antichrist2

Of course, this review wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Lars von Trier’s visually appealing style. There are moments in the film that seem awfully forced, like the entire opening scenes that are filmed in black and white, in slow motion, with Handel blasting at you with Baroque severity; however, this is made up for with many excellent choices in cinematographic design. The majority of the film was shot in the scenic forests of Germany, which lends a mystical and fantastic tone to the entire piece. In all seriousness, even though the film will be pounding you over the head with the notion that evil is lurking, the sheer beauty of the landscapes in this film will make you want to go on a hike. See? We are driven towards the big bad, aren’t we?

So, I wouldn’t say I’d recommend his movie to anyone unless they are a bit of a film snob who enjoys movies that explore the darker side of human nature through extreme displays of sex and violence. If you like seeing what explicit outlawed classics, like Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, are all about; then tread lightly, and go for it.

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