Antichrist (2009) dir. Lars von Trier
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
By Alan Bacchus
The term 'love it or hate it' is not just hyperbole in the case. Lars Von Trier’s cause-célèbre truly is a provocative discussion piece, dividing audiences and critics along both aesthetic and emotional lines. Well I have finally seen the film, months after the debates, so is there any point in debating any more? Well, since two of my other colleagues wrote raving about it (click HERE for Blair's, and HERE for Greg's) let this review be the antidotes to theirs.
"Antichrist" is a steaming, stinking, art house coiler if there ever was one. All of the publicly debated notoriousness - the nudity, the sexual violence, the so-called misogynistic undertones – couldn’t distract from its vacant, flimsy metaphors which needed leaps of Superman-like powers to link toward a profound understanding of what this picture means.
You may know the story by now, a psychological two-hander between the film’s two protagonists, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg going through a particularly intense grieving process after the death of their son. A process which starts out as psychoanalysis of the husband to his wife and degenerates into psychological and physical torture.
Like his slightly less annoying 'Dogville', the film is divided arbitrarily into four chapters plus an prologue and an epilogue (two less chapters than Dogville - thank you Lars), which is false advertising, as it sets up expectations of a tonal shift, or a story shift, but it’s just window dressing, smoke and mirrors for something that is inert.
Admittedly I appreciated the opening sequence. It was fun to see von Trier exercise those muscles of cinematic stylization. The B&W, in slow-mo, and impeccably choreographed had the same melodramatic excessiveness of one of those great Brian DePalma set pieces. But the guts of the film, hurray!, is the lengthy grieving process, Dafoe as the rational therapist who applies his textbook methods to his wife who grieves with complete emotional nakedness.
Oh yeah there’s lots of nakedness. One of themes is his wife’s sexual addictions which she sees as the cause of the boy’s death. As the film becomes more intense and the woman loses her grip on reality, we see her sexual predilections become more extreme resulting in some horrific anatomical close-ups of sexual mutilation.
There is nothing profound in this – two people fighting with each other and blaming each other for the death of their child. Von Trier tries to arthouse-ize his film with a series of random visual metaphors, which never connect in any meaningful way – admirable only as stand alone images
- The poster shot of the two having sex by the tree with the arms and legs protruding from the roots, is a great image, but meaningless
- The raining acorns, meaningless
- The talking dog that yells ‘chaos reigns’, meaningless
- The camera pushing into a close-up of a plant, meaningless
- The deer giving birth to a lamb, meaningless
I assume those Antichrist zealots somehow linked all this randomness together, so maybe I’m the nave?
Perhaps most surprising, is Von Trier technical sloppiness in choreographing his grand finale. When man and woman resort to physical restraint and bodily mutilation, there’s action and fighting ensures, which is so poorly blocked and shot we’re instantly removed from the drama of this climax.
Those money shots – that is, the bloody cumshot, the clitoral home surgery etc – fails to have any impact other than shocks because don’t add feeling to the tone or overall feeling of the film. To compare these moments to say, another even more grotesque film about torture, “Salo: Or the 120 Days of Sodom”. While a jerking someone off till they ejaculate blood was anomalous to Antichrist, in “Salo” having its characters eat shit off the floor actually seemed ‘right’ for that film.
And lastly the title is a complete misnomer. To not pay off using ‘Antichrist’ as your title is perhaps the worst cheat to the audience.