Antichrist


Pretentious, preposterous and utterly vile, Danish provocateur Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist is a graphic, Gothic chamber piece about a woman going through a violent mental breakdown. Buoyed by a wave of controversy since its debut at Cannes, the film is a great glob of self-loathing and despair, hurled directly onto the screen as a form of primal therapy.

After a set of provocative, hand-scrawled title cards that read ‘Lars Von Trier’ and ‘Antichrist’, respectively, the film opens with a prologue in which a married couple, known only as He and She (Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) make love in a room while, in another part of the house, their infant son falls to his death from an open window. Shot in black and white, entirely in slow-motion and scored with an aria from Handel, the sequence would be indistinguishable from a fancy perfume advertisement if it wasn’t for the flashes of unsimulated sex and splattered blood.

She descends into a spiral of guilt and depression so deep she is hospitalised and heavily medicated. Her husband, a therapist, insists he knows better, demands that she abandon her medication and undergo his own brand of talking therapy. The two make a trip to their remote country house, named Eden. There, he subjects her to endless, merciless psychobabble, relentlessly chipping away at her behaviour, beliefs and defences. He talks and talks, but nothing of what he says is memorable, or as it turns out, all that effective.

Antichrist is Von Trier’s version of the Fall of Man, his take on the passages in Genesis where Man is cast from Paradise and Satan is introduced to the world. Into that, the director adds his own greasy, malformed theses on the subjugation of women through history (dubbed ‘Gynocide’) and the process of undergoing psychotherapy. According to Von Trier’s Gnostic reasoning, it was Satan, not God, who created the world, so nobody should be surprised when bad things happen. Evil is part of the design, represented here by a spurious star-map showing three constellations; the deer, the fox and the raven. All three animals show up at various points in the narrative, in various forms of distress. By far the most startling, and inadvertently comic, is the talking fox, who pops up from a thicket to croak “chaos reigns” (in the director’s voice) at an unfazed Defoe.

The fox, as it turns out, is right. For his big finale, Von Trier takes a clumsy lurch into the voguish realms of the torture pornography found in Hostel or Saw. Haunted by visions of her child’s death and goaded into action by her husband’s incessant talking, She turns violent, knocking Him out, drilling a hole in his leg and inserting a millstone. Later, she takes a heavy wooden block to his crotch, castrating him, before mutilating her own genitals with a scissors.

Von Trier shows us these actions in graphic detail, seeming to delight in degrading his actors and repulsing his audience. The director is more concerned with putting his audience through the wringer than with saying anything interesting. For a film full of signs and signifiers, some more subtle than others, it is damning that the violence that Von Trier inflicts on his characters, and on us, carries no symbolic weight whatsoever. These scenes seem to exist only to allow Von Trier exact his own revenge on the characters. This is torture as a taunt, with the director goading the viewer into revulsion, wallowing in his own childish ability to upset, a repugnant, self-indulgent misanthropy.

Chaptered into four sections, each given a portentous title, there is no rhyme or reason to the events that occur, they happen at the whim of the director. In interviews at Cannes film festival, Von Trier claimed to have been in the throes of an incapacitating depression while writing Antichrist and there is evidence of a disturbed mind in every frame. Or at least, there is a facsimile of madness, which might well be the joke. This being a Von Trier film, there has to be a joke, however sour.

Von Trier saves the biggest laugh for the end titles, an incongruous dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky that should be an apology to David Lynch. There isn't a sniff of the Russian master anywhere, but there are allusions to Lynch’s films throughout Antichrist; strange machine noises, banks of circling fog, timeless slow-motion sequences, sinister landscapes and skies filled with star-maps. Other images recall the work of visual artists like Hieronymus Bosch or the Chapman Brothers; tangles of human limbs, misshapen creatures and nightmare visions of teeming humanity. Von Trier is free to make whatever film he likes, but he should at least make it his own.

Full marks for hype and top score for spectacle but as a film, Antichrist fails utterly and absolutely. Watching it is the equivalent of being beaten into submission. Its cruelty is unrelenting and terminally dull.

13 comments:

Carla said...

thanks for seeing it for me... von trier is just vile, he is a psychopath parading as an 'artist', his mother probably did not breastfeed him....

you have summed up precisely how I feel about von trier.. in a way I can show other people.. that doesnt frighten them with my hand gestures and 'crazy' eyes..

really enjoy the blog xo carla

geraldine said...

Sounds totally dreadful. Why bother paying to see such utter human misery. Thanks for saving me the price of the cinema ticket.

geraldine said...

thanks for the totally honest take on this and saving me the price of a cinema ticket.

clom said...

hi john,

great review. sounds like you tried to give it a chance which is a bit more than i've seen from a lot of other reviewers. I've decided I simply don't want Von Trier in my head any more.

I do think the trailer makes it look, at least visually, at least before the much discussed chop-shop-shock-block scenes.

squire23 said...

Not a '1st date' movie then....

Thomas said...

This made we want to see it even more, if that is at all possible. Sometimes there is no deeper meaning to be found, sometimes there definitly is. It is all in the eye (and mind) of the beholder. Film critics are trained to find meaning behind every single element in a film, and the training is so institutionalising that they often convince themselves that a film where there are none, or worse, where there is a purpose that don't concur with their own world view, is not any good.
This is to me a very sad way of going through life (and films) because it excludes the true gems. Take David Fincher or Aronofsky for instance. Not everything they make has a hidden meaning, and if it does, you won't know about it anyway. It's all about what the film means to YOU, not your local newspaper movie critic.
Make up your own mind! Go see it! Thank you

Lola Garsía said...

Go see it! I don't think I've ever seen such beautiful dream (?) sequences before; they certainly merit being seen. Self-loathing and torture is exactly what we'd expect a woman to feel if she believes she's neglected her child and caused its death. I'm glad Trier has chosen to show us this harrowing side to human suffering. You get painfully beautiful scenes and moments of excruciating horror. You get it all. And that's what the human imagination is and what it's capable of. There are moments that remind me of Buñuel and Lynch but Trier does not copy their work; not in the slightest. This film is one to talk about, but to talk about it you have to see it...

matt_mattmatt said...

I think you have to see this movie to be able to tell whether this was a good review or not. The movie itself was an experience. It was dreadful and graphic in some places and then just weird in others. But to not see this movie and condemning it (or it's director) is childish.

matt_mattmatt said...

I think you have to see this movie to be able to tell whether this was a good review or not. The movie itself was an experience. It was dreadful and graphic in some places and then just weird in others. But to not see this movie and condemning it (or it's director) is childish.

Ashley P said...

To say Von Trier is just vile is abit ignorant in my opinion, i watched this film and i felt a tad sick, and some utterly confusing and weird scene's but as everyone else has said, it was an experiance, im glad i watched it even though there was some absolutley messed up scene's. It's a great review but anyone who bash's the movie, or the director doesnt deserve to have a say in this film, to just read a review and believe it, Its his opinion, his view on the film not your's. Buy the film then say No it was disgusting, dont completely neglect the film because you cant think for yourself. Great review nevertheless

vlad said...

This sounds like you're forcing your opinion on people. It's terrible.
And the film is great, Von Trier is a genius.
Ta.

crypt keeper said...

I found the movie to be very well done and visually stunning. True there are some scenes that were tough to watch, yet I could not tear myself away from it. I thoroughly enjoyed the downward spiral into madness. Being a mother, I can understand losing touch with reality after such a traumatic loss. I think it is worth watching at least once. I plan to watch it again because I am sure I missed something.

MikasergBaby said...

Blah, I saw no point in this movie.I would not recommend it.