Antichrist is one of those movies that leaves you at a loss for words. Not a good position to find yourself in when you write movie reviews for a living, but the most I could say is summed up in three words: That’s f***ed up. It’s fascinating to be sure, but it’s easy to see why it left so many people with mixed feelings after screenings at both Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival. Of course, “mixed feelings” is a relative term when you’re dealing with subject matter like misogyny, parental neglect, sexual violence and female genital mutilation. What’s worse is, so far as the film itself is concerned, the criticism can be seen as both valid and invalid; either its part of an adult treatment of deep-seeded psychological issues, or a visual trip through the madness that is Lars von Trier.
Obvious, because we are getting this from von Trier, you’re going to be entering into a world that’s guaranteed to put you on your heels. First of all, the movie is visually arresting, beautifully shot and realized with a really strong sense of capturing the atmosphere and the emotion of the storyline. The heavy psychological drama of the film’s first half degenerates into something that might well be written off as torture porn in less austere hands than von Trier, like Eli Roth or the guys that make the Saw movies. Whether or not you see what von Trier is up to as artistically daring or intellectually stunted, the movie will provoke some serious discussion because if for no other reason for being, it’s just plain provocative.
Willen Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play Him and Her (no names are given or are necessary). In the film’s prologue, their son falls out of the window of their apartment as they make love in the next room. The boy’s death sends the woman into a spiral of paralyzing depression while the man uses his skills as a therapist to try and help her cope. As to what their relationship was before the death of their son, is never really revealed; the woman’s accusations that the man was cold and distant could be just her acting out from the grief. An exercise in talking about Her fears leads the couple on a trip into the woods, where all sorts of dangers, both imagined and real, are realized. Then the blame game between Him and Her devolves into something more akin to something you’d see in John Carpenter movie.
Actually, I think even John Carpenter might get flushed in the cheeks with some of the stuff that von Trier comes up with. The explicit mesh of violence and sexuality is more cringe worthy than a dozen guys getting eaten away by acid in Saw VI. Unless you’re particularly perverse, there’s nothing even remotely titillating about the scenes in question, just pure, nightmare inducing discomfort. The problem is that trying to decipher what the filmmaker’s trying to say requires someone maybe a little more willing to plumb those depths of depravity. Is it genuine misogyny that von Trier is trying to portray? Because it sounds more like a lot of quasi-religious hokum to me.
If von Trier’s goal was to create a film with buzz by shooting a script with worst kind of worm-ridden filth, then all that I can say is mission: accomplished Lars. This is definitely a movie only the most strident of von Trier devotees will want to revisit. A friend of my, no slouch when it comes to art house cinema, told me that it’s too bad that there’s no take backs on disturbing imagery. I’m no light-weight either, I’ve seen enough disturbing stuff on the big screen to make the next 60 Saw movies, but the emotional rawness that von Trier is going for makes the graphically disturbing imagery that much more visceral. It almost seems that the Danish filmmaker was trying to create an art house movie for people that don’t typically see art house movies: A must-see defined by instances of “I can’t believe he did that.” Not all together a negative goal to have, just don’t expect me to even so much as finger this on a DVD shelf in five years.