Cast: Williem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Writer & Director: Lars von Trier
Release: 20 May 2009
Zentropa, 109 mins., NR
As Antichrist concluded, I was left with three conclusions as to my reaction to the movie: either I just witnessed one of most artistic films in recent memory, or I just witnessed a mammoth meditation on craptacular filmmaking. The final conclusion was that this was perhaps the greatest movie with a writer/director filled with ideas but unable to fully bring it out onscreen in a coherent way. One unequivocal fact, though, is that Antichrist isn’t a movie you’re soon to forget.
Split into three chapters and a prologue and epilogue, Antichrist tells the disturbing tale of a couple (He and She, as they’re credited, though I could have sworn Dafoe said the name Bree at one point) mourning the loss of their son, who fell to his death out the window as they were making love. She suffers terrible depression, and He, being a psychiatrist, feels the need to help her. So he brings her to Eden, a remote cabin, to confront her emotional pain and fear of the woods, and once there, some really strange shit goes down. And that’s putting it lightly.
Antichrist was one of those movies that once I heard about it, there was no way I was not going to somehow see it. I read plenty of reviews on the film, and knew full well what I was getting into when I saw it. At the Cannes Film Festival, director Lars von Trier got a lot of praise for this production, scripted during a intense period of depression for the writer/director, due primarily for its artistic, beautiful cinematography and uncompromising visuals of violence (not in a “torture porn’ sort of way, but more in a Passion of the Christ, no-BS fashion).
The movie opens with the much-talked about five-minute slow motion prologue, as He and She go at it in the shower, and eventually on the bed, as their young son gets out of his cradle and makes his way to a open window, all to the sound of operatic music. Haunting, chilling, a little annoying (I’d say wrong track choice), and nearly boring. The one constant love gush for Antichrist is the direction of Lars von Trier and cinematography by Anthony Dode Mantle. Oh yes, it is quite beautiful, artistic, and as awesome as everyone says it is. My major gripe with it is the film’s overuse of slow motion, and when I say slow motion, I mean it makes the action scenes in 300 quite speedy by comparison. There are about six wide shots of a character walking through the woods, typically the character glowing white, but yet with the water-color effect von Trier made to the video presentation, it was rather difficult distinguishing what the frak was going on sometimes. There’s also a lot of hand held work for the more intimate scenes between Dafoe and Gainsbourg. Overall, the cinematography wasn’t as beautiful as I was expecting it to be, but there are some shots that truly are awesome.
Antichrist boasts another thing, as well: aside from a title that makes no sense in the context of the movie (if you have a theory, feel free to enlighten me), there are some amazingly gruesome shots in the movie. For one, She does some pretty nasty things to herself and He, specifically each other’s genitals. And there’s a sequence with a deer/fox (I forget) with a bone protruding from its body, all in slow motion. And then there’s the sex. Full frontal, not-safe-for-work, closest thing you’ll get to a porno without picking one up; I gotta give Dafoe and Gainsbourg well deserved props – they literally let themselves go, naked physically and emotionally.
This movie required scratching the darkness within ourselves and bring it up for the camera, and William Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg do just that. Riveting performances, and never felt like, y’know, actors doing their gig.
For all its visual splendor and arresting performances, Antichrist just falls apart with the script. It’s been hours since I finished the flick, and I’ve meditated about it, and I still don’t think the screenplay has any sort of coherency, instead being a presentation of cobbled together ideas that are simply gruesome, and acted as therapy for von Trier as he was coping with his own depression. It’s not a deep philosophical study of the nature of evil; there’s two original-ish notions present in the flick: the Three Beggars (who I thought would be a stronger presence in the movie than they end up being) and She’s belief that women are the root of all evil in the world (a thesis that understandably suffered some scrutiny). Perhaps the script wasn’t trying to be remotely deep at all, just a simple story of a couple in turmoil who end up drenched in some sort of evil (She more so than He; He, I’d say, falls under ‘survivor mode’). I’d be interested in reading other people’s comments of what they think the film is trying to say, because I’m at a loss. In fact, it sort of read as a horror movie, like a Amityville Horror or something where the protagonists end up being their own worst enemy.
If it wasn’t for all the attention the flick’s getting, I’d probably write this baby off as a truly frakked up movie that seems to have high ambitions but falls fairly short of achieving them. As it stands, I maintain Antichrist is a movie that’s not necessarily recommended, but if you feel compelled to see it as I did – yah, you should definitely give it a look. With the eventual DVD release, I really hope a audio commentary would be featured as part of its supplements, because this is one of those flicks that really needs one. I’d like to know what he was thinking when I wrote Scene A, and directed Scene B, etc., etc. Overall…that was just weird, man…weird…
Oh, and if anyone plans on watching this with a mom or family in the same room or somewhere close…yeah, don’t…