As a husband and wife are making love, their small child crawls to the window sill and plummets to his death, and the wife sees all of this, but is too engaged in her “rapture” so to speak to do anything about it. She suffers tremendous guilt over this and her husband, a therapist, seeks to cure her of her guilt, though he already knows this may be wrong, but he wants her to put herself into a situation that would leave her at her most vulnerable, forcing her to confront her fears, and thus move past this… only that’s not quite what happens…
This is what physically seems to be the premise of Lars von Trier’s latest movie, Antichrist, which of course made big news in Cannes for the extreme reaction that it was met with by critics. Now I’m a big fan of von Trier’s, I think the guy is a brilliant filmmaker (he thinks so too and won’t hesitate to let you know it) and though I may not necessarily agree with his worldview on things, I most certainly admire the fact that he puts it out there, totally un-compromised, and leaves it in the minds of his audience to ponder over after the fact.
This deals extremely with the nature of man and woman, religion, misogyny, witchcraft (as a means of feminine control), genital mutilation and more and totally does it in a way that screams pure art house at the audience. von Trier is known for being a cinematic provocateur, and he’s certainly at that with Antichrist pretty much taking a sledgehammer over your head pounding in his own ideas, and of course wanting it’s audience to bring something to the table as well.
There is a sense of impending dread that permeates the entire movie, starting slow and building to an extreme crescendo of violence, by it’s end. The violent acts are gut-wrenching and very hard to watch and in some cases, extremely sexual in nature. I was put in the mind of David Lynch’s Eraserhead through a good portion of this, and I think, that if you’ve seen that movie, then your own reaction to that might be a way to gauge what your reaction to Antichrist would be.
On a technical level, this is amazingly well done, and nothing less should be expected from von Trier, as almost all of his films display an amazing technical proficiency. I found it interesting that in his end credits, there credits given to researchers for both misogyny and horror films, which of course just makes me curious to the inner workings of how this all came together.
Antichrist stars Willem Dafoe and French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg and with the exception of their young child, they’re pretty much entirely who were dealing with this entire film. And it’s extremely brave performances from both, in particular Gainsbourg, who’s asked to do some things on-screen that I don’t think you’d ever see too many American actresses willing to even think about. let alone perform them on-screen. Dafoe has previously worked with von Trier on Manderlay and supposedly had such a good rapport with the director that he sought out a new project with him, well he certainly got something way more demanding here and fortunately Dafoe is up to the task, but then he’s never been one to shy away from anything controversial either.
As I said at the start, I’m a big fan of Lars von Trier, and pretty much look at seeing a new movie from him in about the same way that I used to with the films of Stanley Kubrick or currently do with the films of David Lynch, which is of course for me, a special event. Antichrist didn’t disappoint me in that regard and left me with much to ponder over after the fact. I’ve seen some say that they wouldn’t necessarily want to experience this one again, but of course I’m looking forward to eventually owning this one and pouring through it often. Supposedly, von Trier’s next project will be a science fiction movie, and of course I can’t wait to see it, but hope eventually he returns to make Wasington the third part of his trilogy started with Dogville and Manderlay. I can only recommend this to the most adventurous viewers out there, those willing to put up with some most certain pretentiousness (always present in von Trier movies, and I don’t see that as a negative) and willing to bring something to the table as they’re watching it… all others, need not apply…