Lars von Trier’s controversial film “Antichrist” deals with life, death, love and sex in absurd, truthful and horrifying ways. Does chaos reign?
Antichrist is divided into six sections, including a prologue dealing directly with sex and death. Specifically, while a couple is having sex, their toddler sneaks out of a window and falls to his death. This is horrible enough, and certainly fuel for drama.
However, stylistically, this movie kicks everything up a notch. To make everything more honest (and awkward), the sex is depicted in what may be called a “graphic” way (let’s just say, the full process is shown). If that’s not enough, the toddler’s fall is portrayed in an almost serene, semi-humorous manner.
As you can already tell, Antichrist is a movie bound for controversy. Many people would regard it instantly as part of a snooty, pretentious, artsy-fartsy shock value machine. However, it should be noted that this movie definitely ventures into surrealistic horror terrain, which creates yet another layer of potential criticism and condemnation.
Still, despite all that, the movie has gained praise, and I think it deserves some. I actually like that it’s a film of many moods, styles and messages. Hell, it’s one of the few movies that takes so-called “torture porn” to a transcendent level. Let’s examine it (without spoiling much), shall we?
Lost in the wilderness. (via Nordisk Film Dist.)
As one might expect, this chapter deals with the grief of the parents — particularly the unnamed mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who struggles to move beyond the tragedy. Her husband (Willem Dafoe), an unnamed therapist, does his best to help her, using his profession as a guide. In the process, it is revealed that she has developed a fear of “the woods,” or nature (though the movie doesn’t mention it, this fear is variously called hylophobia, dendrophobia or xylophobia).
To help assuage her fears, he decides upon “exposure therapy” — that is, bringing her into the woods so she can face her fears directly. Interestingly, although she fears the woods by this point, the previous summer she resided in a cabin, where she developed her thesis on the topic of gynocide (or the societal murder of women and girls). It’s implied, then, that something in the woods may have driven a fear into her, even before her child’s death. Of course, the wooded area is called “Eden,” which has some religious connotations to it.
This is an interesting angle already. At first glance, a fear of the woods sounds almost silly. Nevertheless, anyone who’s walked the woods at night knows they can take on different, more sinister dimensions. A mere snap of a twig can make the heart race faster. What is out there? We do not know until it’s seen. In the grander sense, man often alienates himself from nature, while imagining he is conquering it (though nature is all, so conquering nature means conquering one’s self as well). Despite our attempts to defy it, it seems our fear of nature is always still there, waiting, lurking. Why else would we spend so much time trying to control it?
Some new constellations? (via Nordisk Film Dist.)
This is where the movie gets weirder and weirder, as she increasingly blends her grief with pain and forceful sex. Meanwhile, nature itself takes on more sinister dimensions. Acorns strikes the metal cabin roof at regular intervals, ticks cover the man’s hand upon waking, and he encounters what I now call the “Chaos Reigns Fox.”
All of these elements grow and the story becomes a greater nightmare with each passing minute. One may try to assess what is going on, but it would be in defiance of those two words: Chaos reigns. Love, grief, pain, sex, death and chaos! We’ll see that love, hate and fear of abandonment are all intertwined.
Is It Good?
The man stands alone in the wilderness. (via Nordisk Film Dist.)
Yes and no. It is an award-winner. Gainsbourg won the 2009 Cannes Film Festival’s award for Best Actress. It also earned the Nordic Council Film Prize for best Nordic film, and the European Film Award for best cinematography.
However, in my book, Antichrist is the type of movie that almost transcends criticism or praise. It sort of stands on its own, and will likely stand the test of time for that reason. I hesitate to use the word “classic” here, but I will say the movie has a timeless quality, at least. We might know when it was made, who acted in it, what the critics say, et cetera, but nothing compares to the experience of just watching it — letting the chaos and awkward, disgusting scenes wash over us. It may not leave us feeling cleansed or relieved, but it will be a unique experience.
Also, I should mention that there are definitely some humorous aspects to the movie. During one key moment I laughed pretty hard, honestly. In other words, this is a movie that crosses a lot of different paths. Trust your instincts. In order to not get lost, you’ll just have to follow it — go where it goes. Or you can turn it off if it becomes too much.