Director - Lars von Trier
Runtime - 104 min; Unrated
Willem Dafoe – He
Charlotte Gainsbourg – She
It is very likely that many movie-goers will seem to recall the name Lars von Trier as someone they are vaguely familiar with, someone who they are sure they know a little about, but cannot really say exactly what it is they know, when in fact, it is more likely that they don’t know anything about the 53 year old director from Denmark. I make that blanket statement based on my own knowledge, as I simply could not recall much other than he was ‘the guy who did Breaking the Waves (1996)” and that I think I enjoyed it when I saw it, many years ago. Well, he has given us a new film that is challenging, beautiful, horrific, and inspiring, though I’m not sure in which order those belong.
Antichrist is a little unlike anything I can think of for comparison, so I’m going to simply do my best to convey what the film meant to me and how it affected me, leaving it up to you to decide if you want to put yourself through the same emotional swings.
I saw this film by myself and am thankful I did, for I’m not sure how one is supposed to interact with another person for the rest of the evening upon leaving the theater. Perhaps your pre-panned cappuccino break will be put on hold.
On the one hand the film begins with an absolutely beautiful 10 minutes mixing slow motion, cinematography of a winter wonderland, and a breath-taking Aria by Handel (Lascia Ch'io Panga). The scene is juxtaposed with the most beautiful (love making) and the most horrible (death of an infant) with no words, only music and light and shadows, and my eyes were fixed to the screen in a way I am not accustomed. On the other hand, the final 30 minutes of the film contain some of the most horrific scenes of violence between man and woman I have ever watched, and let me be very clear that for me to actually turn my head away or close my eyes while watching a film is extremely rare, and I did it on more than one occasion.
It is in this disposition that I find it so difficult to conclude that this film is a wonderful piece of art, and I am excited to have seen it, and though I feel it is too easy to simply say “he went too far with the scenes of sex and violence” it is also too easy to say that it is all acceptable for the art…I’m not sure what to say of certain scenes, exactly, only that once I removed myself from the theater and gave some thought to them, I am comfortable finding a reason for all of them, and the reasons they were placed where they were left important feelings with me that were central to the film.
Though I am not certain what the title has to do with the film exactly, the very idea that the film takes place primarily in the woods at a cabin known to the couple as Eden, and subsequently depicts the fall of man and woman, sort of brings it to light.
The film is broken up into chapters which seem to mirror the stages of grief a human goes through on the way to recovery, although I’m not so sure that is what is happening in the film. Willem Dafoe as He and Charlotte Gainsbourg and She are man and wife who lose a child, and the rest of the film is them dealing with this, mainly through He’s use of his role as a psychologist and She’s role as the grieving mother. The film is deeper than that, and as you get into it more you will find a lot of imagery and symbolism that ties things together and, at the same time, rips things apart.
The film is quite shocking in the use of explicit sexual deviance and torture, though as many critics point out this is not torture-porn, it is more a way to hammer home the underlying themes of the movie. I am going to be quite blunt here and say that this film is simply not to be seen by anyone who is not already fascinated by cinema in general, or interested in off-beat films with limitless boundaries. Also, a strong stomach and an open mind are requirements. I would also like to add a strange notion, that you could go see this film and watch it only up until the scenes of violence begin, for the film itself is beautiful and should be considered a work of art, but those ending scenes are not for many people.
I am still thinking about the film more than a week later, and it took me this long to formulate my thoughts and put them to paper. Much like Synecdoche, New York (2008), a film I rather enjoyed but did not entirely understand nor completely want to recommend (though I did) I am giving this film a specific niche nod and feel that, if you think you are the type of person who would enjoy this type of event, it is a must see.
**** ½ out of 5