Lars von Trier’s controversial, anti-Award winning film Antichrist is probably the toughest film to sit through of the last decade, with the exception perhaps of A Serbian Film, which I don’t take seriously as a movie anyway.
.Antichrist has garnered a fairly mixed reaction, with a 46% score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.6 rating on IMDb. Before I launch into the review, I’d like to clear up that I am a fan of Von Trier-in fact, he is one of my five favourite directors. I have never seen a film of his that I’ve hated, and Antichrist is no exception. It deals with subjects such as the infinite problem of misogynism, and how women have been mistreated throughout all time. Though some critics have denounced von Trier, saying he is a misogynist, I see the film as condemning misogynism rather than promoting it.
It opens with a sequence that has to be one of the best scenes von Trier has ever directed. It is the film’s prologue, shot in black-and-white and presented in slow-motion to the achingly beautiful music of Handel. In this sequence, the film’s two protagonists, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are making vigorous love in the shower, while in just the other room, their four-year old son climbs out of his crib, up to an open window, and falls to his death. The scene struck me the first time I saw it as just pure von Trier in every way. Few (if any) other directors would choose to present the scene in such a simultaneously moving, depressing and enlightening manner. And we can confirm that this is a von Trier movie by the unexpected penetration shot in the shower early on.
The film initially deals with mourning, which is what He and She are doing after their son’s death. She is grieving, almost unnaturally so, often reduced to a fit of rage and tears. He is a therapist, and tries to treat her, but discovers that the only thing that might do them any good is to return to their second home in the forest, ominously called ‘Eden,’ (one of many religious references). They go there, and settle in. Around them as they settle in are the dark woods, where He spots three different animals: a deer, a fox and a raven; these animals form The Three Beggars, a constellation in the night sky which may be partially responsible for the erratic and unnatural behaviour that is to come.
As well as a prologue and epilogue, the film is split into four chapters: Grief (represented by the deer), Pain (represented by the fox) and Despair (represented by the raven). As each chapter goes on, the way they act and make love is influenced by the growing claustrophobia of the emotions represented by these animals. Grief deals with the initial hurt of losing their child, Pain deals with their first few nights in Eden and Despair tells of the disturbing behavior that ensues. Some of this includes She smashing He’s genitals with a block of wood and then proceeding to graphically masturbate him until he ejaculates blood. Von Trier does not censor a thing. After this, she attaches some sort of clamp to his foot so it is difficult for him to move, and then flees. He escapes by crawling, then she comes back to find him gone and and madly searches for him. When she finds him, they return to the cabin and in a fit of insanity, she cuts off her clitoris with a pair of scissors. Again, everything is shown.
Sure, the movie is graphic. And that is likely to put a lot of people off. It’s difficult for me to watch, God knows how I got up the guts to buy the Criterion DVD, but I honestly believe it’s a really good movie. And the clit-snip, as it is affectionately known, does not seem pointless to me. Throughout the film, She is aware of the cruelty inflicted upon women throughout history, and a product of her desperate grief is to inflict this cruelty on herself, half as a punishment for what she sees as her own incompetence (forgetting to tell her husband that their son has been able to escape his crib for some time now) and also as a mad way of escaping the constant grief she feels and moving on. The woods of Eden are portrayed in a dark, ominous manner throughout the film, and like the hotel in The Shining, it seems they have some sort of deathly presence residing within them, represented in physical form by the Three Beggars, constant reminders of the darkness that has chased them throughout the time after their son’s death, and the grief that will not go away.
Some have viewed this film as ‘pretentious.’ Well, that can be said for von Trier’s entire career, and whether I disagree with that does not change what people think. Sure, he’s done some stupid things such as calling himself ‘the greatest filmmaker in the world,’ but what he’s done and his attitude does not influence what I think of his films; they all have a clear and present point, and it is never misogynistic, pretentious or spiteful; it’s just graphic. As for the unsimulated sex, which some see as a big deal; you must remember that growing up, von Trier’s parents were nudists, so he was raised to treat nudity and sex as much less of a big deal as we might see it. Almost all his most popular films deal with sex in a frank and confronting manner (with the exception of the surprisingly sexually calm Dancer in the Dark), and it’s good that we have these films to do that because without them, we’d all be one step closer to being like the MPAA: cowardly, and scared shitless at anything new.
Von Trier is a reminder of what’s wrong with censorship: everything. Sure, none of his film’s are suitable for kids, but he refuses to censor any of them. He puts in uncensored sex to fuck with us and tell us that this is real life and that we should get used to it. Are the shots of Dafoe’s erection and Gainsbourg’s vagina shock tactics? Yes and no. Antichrist is not just his take on horror films, it’s a powerful portrayal of sexuality and the way it is treated by people as dirty and to be censored and only shown privately. Von Trier is a rebel, I suppose you could say, attempting to liberate us from this strange fear of sexuality in films that so many of us have.
I’m proud to say that Antichrist is one of the best horror films made in recent years, and that von Trier is one of my favourite directors, a man whose films I always admire and love. There’s nothing erotic in his films, no strange shit that turns me on; it’s just the way he’s so honest about things; if he wants to put his protagonists through Hell, then he’ll do it, only because it’s real and it happens. Antichrist is not only a great horror film but a great movie about grief, pain and despair, and how it can ruin us, turn us into strange mockeries of our normal selves, and change the way we look at life. After losing someone close to us, everything becomes fractured and eerily different; the world suddenly seems more spiteful and nihilistic, just as it does in Antichrist, and we can feel like we would rather die or mutilate ourselves than continue to go through this horrific grieving and despairing process.
I realize I’ve been ranting for quite some time now, and I’d like to apologise, but there are a lot of people out there who hate von Trier and this movie and I just wanted to get my thoughts on the matter out to them. If you disagree with me that’s fine, and you’re more than welcome to post a nice, lengthy comment about why I’m wrong in the comments, I will not begrudge you that, and I will not try and contradict you or be rude to you; this site isn’t a debate club, but if someone wants to have a nice, healthy debate about a film than I’m more than welcome to participate. This is just me putting my two cents in on a film and a director that I love, and I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind if they don’t want it changed. This is just another one of my reviews that turned into rambling, and I hope you’ll forgive me for it. Thanks.