Film review: Antichrist

November 2, 2009 by
Filed under: Film reviews 

antichrist-posterYou’ll no doubt have encountered the furore this movie has generated over the past few months and while I’m loath to add to the noise, I don’t think it’s possible to not have a debate over a film of this nature. Although divided into several chapters with titles including Grief, Pain and Despair, for me, Antichrist is a film of two parts: the first two-thirds and the final third; this latter segment no doubt being responsible for its seeming adoption or alignment by and with the horror genre.

Antichrist commences with an extended scene, shot in black and white, and set to a classical soundtrack. No dialogue, just detailed slow-motion shots of the flat in which the Man and the Woman (the characters are unnamed and I’ll not mention the actor and actresses names either) are making love, and (ooh how controversial) a single second scene of penetration. During this activity their young son walks down the stairs, climbs onto a desk and falls out of the window. It’s a memorable, simple and stylish way to begin a film that soon loses itself in analysis, atmosphere and ambiguity.

The Man is a therapist who feels he knows more about his wife’s bereavement and guilt issues than the staff at the hospital, so he discharges her, taking care of her at home; a move which soon comes across as selfish, as the woman increasingly feels like an experimental subject. Perhaps in response she demands increasingly physical sex and self-harms as the influence of nature gradually manifests itself and her guilt grows. The Man decides they should spend time at their utterly remote cabin in the woods, Eden, where the Woman spent time writing her dissertation on medieval misogyny and where, we find out, she fell into believing what she was writing about, rather than critiquing it.

Von Trier dedicates the film to Andrei Tarkovsky, the famed Russian Director of Andrei Rublev, Stalker and Solaris among others, and it’s with these last two films that Antichrist resonates the most as von Trier utilises several of Tarkovsky’s filmic techniques such as long, uninterrupted scenes, and the black and white dialogue free passages. Like Tarkvosky, Von Trier in Antichrist has given the earth, nature, the elements and the animal kingdom, an alien and ambiguous intelligence that seeps into the minds of the Man and the Woman so that their time sent in Eden becomes a wildly surging series of experiences and emotions: as the cabin’s tin roof is constantly bombarded with acorns from the huge trees it sits beneath; in harsh, visceral and surreal encounters with crows and a talking fox (which I found extremely powerful and perfect within that segment of the film, as opposed to many who have simply laughed).

As the Woman experiences the highs and lows of self-realisation it is the Man, the therapist, who appears most-affected as the landscape becomes an immense primal force that overwhelms them both; as he works with her to overcome her fear of the grass that swirls around the cabin, he is seeing visions that warn him of impending chaos. It is here where Antichrist veers away from what I took, (wanted?), to be an intriguing, ambitious exploration into the nature of nature and its influence on our relationships, towards a graphic depiction of torture and survival rooted in the deep mental illness resulting from a child’s death. Driven on by their surroundings, unable to cope with the sheer size of the environment and their emotions, their physical relationship intensifies into matrimonial violence: genital mutilations being the worst of many outrages inflicted upon and by each other.

The furore surrounding Antichrist has been mostly about its easy to criticise elements: the sex, the violence, its so-called pretentiousness, von Trier’s reputation and even his supposed attitude towards women. I bet even von Trier isn’t sure what he’s trying to say some of the time but, for me, Antichrist is an extremely brave film; as with Tarkovsky’s works, its attempts to depict this unknowable and unquantifiable world we live in and the unpredictable and unfathomable ways we humans relate to it and to each other, are absolutely open to debate and interpretation, and that’s the point. Two-thirds wonderful.

Antichrist, 2009

Directed by Lars Von Trier

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