Antichrist (IFC Films, NR)

film_antichrist_sm.gifI don’t object to either violence or sex in film; the question is what the director does with them.








The main thing to keep in mind about Lars von Trier’s latest offering is that nothing you see on screen should be interpreted literally. While no movies are "real," some are certainly naturalistic in that they seek to replicate on screen a believable reality within the context of filmic convention. Then there are movies which provide an experience more like a waking dream or a trip down the rabbit hole.

Either type can be successful, and although you may prefer one over the other, the more interesting question is whether viewing a particular film provides adequate recompense for the price of the ticket and the two or so hours it has taken out of your life. Of course, the answer to that question depends on you as much as it does on the film. That explains why there are films which split critical and popular opinion right down the middle: people love them or hate them with not much middle ground claimed by anyone.

Antichrist is one of those films. The director is a provocateur: Remember how Dogme 95 was going to purify filmmaking? Or when Zentropa became the first mainstream film company to produce hardcore pornography and helped overturn the Norwegian obscenity laws? Now von Trier’s trying his hand at the horror porn genre without abandoning the genital close-ups, making Antichrist a sort of horror porn squared. It’s an 18-certificate movie in Great Britain, and if it had a rating in this country it would be NC-17.

I don’t object to either violence or sex in film; the question is what the director does with them. In this case, the answer is not very much at all. It frequently feels as if von Trier ran out of ideas and decided to pad the film by throwing yet another sex scene or graphic mutilation on screen. This quickly becomes tedious, which should prove to any other auteur considering slumming it in horrordom that making a good genre film is not easy. And that whole épater la bourgeoisie is just so nineteenth century. Could we please move on and try to create something meaningful instead?

The film is divided into a prologue, four chapters and an epilogue, each of which is introduced with a title card which looks like it was written with chalk on a modernist blackboard. This provides a good indication that the film to follow should not be taken literally.

There are three characters: a couple identified only as He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and their son who falls out of a window to his death during the Prologue. The woman is driven mad by grief and guilt, so in an attempt to cure her, He takes her to their cabin named "Eden" (get it?) where She had previously been working on her academic thesis about gynocide. Then things get really weird: Windows open by themselves, acorns pelt the cabin, He encounters a deer, a fox and a crow which are no ordinary creatures, and She goes completely off the deep end. There’s lots of sex and violence and it doesn’t end happily for anyone.

It’s too bad the end result is not better, because Antichrist has some inspired moments. Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle is superb throughout. The prologue, in slow-motion black and white, is stunningly beautiful, as are some of the forest scenes. The "three beggars" parable could have been developed into something interesting. Dafoe and Gainsbourg have every opportunity to display their acting chops while exploring the darker side of humanity. But on the whole, I’m leaning more toward the point of view of the ecumenical jury at Cannes, which awarded it a special anti-award for misogyny. With one difference: In my view, the film’s crime is simply pretentious pointlessness. | Sarah Boslaugh

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply