"Little tears are hiding among the ferns as usual."
- She (Charlotte Gainsbourg)
"A crying woman is a scheming woman."
- The Talking Fox
At a glance:
Controversial director Lars von Trier worked through his own personal depression by creating this massive misstep: a slow-moving, distastefully misogynistic horror/torture film
Our review (with spoilers):
Thirteen years ago, I subjected myself to Breaking the Waves, the first English language film by Lars von Trier. Yes, I know that many ‘art’ film critics with film study credentials greater than mine (that’s easy; I have none) thought this film was fantastic. I was appalled at the stupidity of the characters. If they were not real people, just symbols of world conditions, then let’s have a documentary, I say. The little Cat-in-the-Hat smile of Emily Watson haunted me for years; I refused to watch anything with Watson or by von Trier. Yet, I grudgingly admit that von Triers is an artist who painstakingly sculpts film (whether I like them or not). Antichrist was my chance to give von Trier – and myself - a second chance. Keep in mind, however, that I view films primarily as entertainment. I have little time for directors who have more interest in furthering a personal, semi-subliminal agenda, and who have little interest in creating a work that is both entertainment and art.
In Antichrist, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg – known only as He and She – are engaged in passionate sex when their un-minded toddler son climbs a chair, opens an unlocked window, and plunges to his death from their upper story apartment. Von Trier’s guilt-laden graphic imagery (a brightly lit close-up of a fully erect penis plunging into a vagina) leaves no doubt in my mind that he wants to blame sex itself for the death of this toddler. As events transpire, She also seems to blame sex – or herself – for the death. How much does von Trier hate women? He abused Watson in Breaking the Waves. He abuses Gainsbourg’s character here. I do give him credit for creating good roles for actresses, and for masking his hatred behind the façade of artful film-making. I was secretly pleased, after forming this opinion, to find out that the ecumenical jury at Cannes gave Antichrist a special ‘anti-award’, stating that the film is "the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world".
And why is all this guilt being heaped on She (and He)? I’m for a more rational approach to the initial situation. If you live on the third floor of a building where the windows are not permanently closed, and you have a toddler, you need to take precautions first, as there is no way anyone could possibly watch the child 24/7 even if they weren’t having wild shower/laundry room sex. So there’s plenty of ways to spread that blame around.
Despite his usual misgivings about it, He (a psychiatrist by trade) decides to treat She’s depression himself. He identifies that the source of her fear is a forest cabin called Eden that they have visited before. They hike there together – in slow motion - stopping every once in a while to stare at a series of dead baby animals that keep appearing before them. This subtle imagery is too oblique for me; I have no idea what these dead baby animals were supposed to represent – but they certainly seem to be upsetting to He and She. Maybe the talking fox knows the answer. The forest scenes are visually beautiful. Too bad that beautiful forest will soon be buried under two feet of acorns (at the ridiculous rate they are falling on the cabin roof).
She works through the pain of losing her son; soon after, she has a long night’s sleep and wakes up with a smile on her face, claiming that she is cured. He isn’t so sure, and he’s right. He’s also going a bit mad. He meets the previously mentioned talking fox (never a good sign unless you are in a children’s story). He sleeps with his arm out the window, hanging over the sill, no less (in an attempt to get RSI?) and wakes up with his hand covered in engorged ticks. These he rips off (I thought this left all the heads in and he will get infected, but of course he doesn’t). He discovers that her thesis on witches and persecution of women has somehow led her to the conclusion that women are evil. When He finds a series of pictures of their son, always dressed (by She) with shoes on the wrong feet, he begins to suspect that She is a demented torturer. Too late! Soon he is knocked out and is having grotesque, turn-your-face-away acts inflicted on parts of his body. When she’s done with him, she mutilates herself in a scene that is almost impossible to watch.
Antichrist is a horror film – admittedly, a genre that I do not usually like – embellished with shallow trappings of great portent by a self-indulgent director. Von Trier has made wonderful films; hopefully, this one is an anomaly.
Rating: 1 of 4
Other reviewers said:
"Dogville, Von Trier's cinematic masterpiece from 2003, was a film that said so much about so many things. It explored America, evil, men and women, humanity, power and more, while being ambiguous enough to treat its audience with respect and let them draw their own conclusions. Antichrist just seems horribly shallow in comparison. Von Trier has confessed that in working on the film through a bout of almost debilitating depression, Antichrist was made using "about half" of his "physical and intellectual capacity". The truth is that it shows."
- Mayer Nissim (Digital Spy)