85 of 92 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Antichrist [DVD] (DVD)
If it hadn't been for the vociferous praise from a friend, wild horses couldn't have dragged me to watch Lars Von Trier's latest controversy. Not only did it seem to be thoroughly unpleasant but having recently been joined by our second son the timing couldn't have been any worse for a film which follows the tortured path of a couple grieving after the death of their toddler. It doesn't matter who you are though, or what your familial setup might be, Antichrist is always going to be an uncomfortable and uncompromising watch. Deeply troubling, controversial in the truest sense of the word and as admirable as it is repulsive, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel but after a week or two I am at least ready to get something out there.
It is an uncompromising start, Von Trier seems keen to set out his stall early. The first few minutes of the film, shot in beautiful slow motion black-and-white, show Willem Defoe as 'He' and Charlotte Gainsbourg as 'She' making love, including a close-up shot of a thrusting, erect penis so that you can accuse him of pornography and the simultaneous, slow, almost balletic sequence events that leads to the couple's son falling from their apartment window onto the snowy street below. We are then into Grief, the name of this first section, which has hospitalised and medicated her and left him, who is a therapist, with the cold detachment of a professional, searching for the best way to help her through her grief. At first we feel huge sympathy for Gainsbourg, crippled by her grief, lashing out for some kind of purchase on her emotions, whilst at the same time being repelled by Defoe's clinical and arrogant treatment of his partner. You sense that there can only be danger once the barrier between lover and therapist has been broken down and this feeling only intensifies when the couple leave the oppression of their apartment for the rural retreat they call Eden.
After Grief come sections entitled Pain (Chaos Reigns) and Despair (Gynocide) where rural retreat becomes a place of frightening isolation, Eden becomes Hell, and the couple embark on a course of tortured treatment, recrimination and confrontation. Von Trier's landscape is dark hued and frightening, populated by totemic animals like a doe with a stillborn fawn hanging behind it, and a rank fox which even speaks to Him ("Chaos reigns!") a horrible visual representation of Her assertion that Nature is Satan's Church. The increasingly nightmarish feel to the film continues as the violence escalates and all is enhanced by Anthony Dod Mantle's amazing cinematography; Eden is fecund and rotting, a harsh light cuts through the night and the black and white sections are deep and textured.
The torturous violence meted out wouldn't look out of place in the rash of horror flicks from the Saw stable but it isn't that or the explicit sex that worry me. It is of course the sexual politics and the inevitable accusations of misogyny. I've already mentioned our differing sympathies for He and She and these shift through the film with Von Trier providing revelations that alter our perception particularly of her. She had been working on a thesis of historical violence against women (Gynocide) but her endeavour stalled in the face of her unacceptable conclusion. Human nature is evil and therefore women are evil, a conclusion dangerously close to 'she asked for it' and one rejected emphatically by He. But those revelations about her would seem to support her thesis and the last of these is such a paradigm shift that it risks alienating part of the audience entirely. This is what I'm still struggling with. Von Trier can't really be suggesting that women are evil, their sexual desires perverse and murderous, and their relationship to their offspring ambivalently abusive; so what is he trying to say exactly? The final scene in which a crowd of faceless women surge over the hill on which He now stands alone, baffled, is perhaps an indicator of Von Trier's own bafflement and certainly a neat symbol of mine. What I can say for sure is that the film is a work of art rather than pornography of sex or violence. It is uncomfortable and difficult, challenging and unique. There is no right time to watch it but it would be a mistake to dismiss it out of hand.
Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 May 2010 09:14:20 BDT
Mr. Rwj Nixon says:
Fantastic review, you should be very proud, agree with you wholeheartedly after watching this film, could not get it out of my head for days afterwards.
Posted on 17 Aug 2010 01:32:31 BDT
Hayley Cameron says:
Excellent analysis. I have already bookmarked your blog.
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Aug 2010 10:02:43 BDT
Thank you, Sir, and apologies for not seeing your kind comments until now.
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Aug 2010 10:03:25 BDT
Thanks Hayley. I look forward to you commenting on the blog at some point in the future...
Posted on 6 Dec 2010 10:38:45 GMT
A very well written review. I am still none the wiser as to whether I want to watch the film or not but a well written review none the less.
In reply to an earlier post on 7 Dec 2010 14:27:33 GMT
Thank you for the compliment. You may never be sure of whether you 'want' to watch the film but I think you definitely should. I'd love to know your thoughts if you do.
Posted on 15 Mar 2011 19:29:46 GMT
happy gerbil says:
Posted on 24 Mar 2011 21:58:43 GMT
happy gerbil says:
In reply to an earlier post on 25 Mar 2011 00:03:31 GMT
"Whereof one cannot speak, one must pass over in silence."
Posted on 25 Apr 2011 01:50:23 BDT
Kevin Wilson says:
When you are given so little to work with, I'm not entirely sure whether a film couched in these cryptic terms is worth the effort you've put into unravelling it. It puts me in mind of 'Funny Games' by Michael Haeneke, although the similarity is only in its unremitting cruelty within the paradigm of the mannerisms and conventions of an 'art film'. We are intrigued by, and dissect these things because we assume the maker is attempting to make a work of art, and therefore has something to say, if only we could see it. I loathed Haeneke's film but at least it was possible to determine his intent. The opening scene of 'Antichrist' is deeply disturbing and the grief of the parents that ensues immediately thereafter, deeply heartrending, but the course the film takes after the arrival at 'Eden' and the ensuing revelations, take it out of any recognisable narrative. To me, this lessened the impact of the violence and shock images and, as you say, left the characters, viewers, and Von Trier himself, perhaps, baffled. Actually, if Von Trier is baffled, I'm not even sure what he's baffled about. Reading a brief bio of him, his parents were nudists and his mother confessed to him on her deathbed, that the man he thought of as his father actually wasnt, and that he was the result of an affair with a colleague. So perhaps he does have issues with women. One thing that did cross my mind was that this may be a meditation on abortion. The 17th c. images of burning, torture and branding of witches that incorporate 'her' studies may have been a reference to the kidnap and sacrifice of newborns that such women were alleged to commit, but it doesnt really fit with her hysteria and self punishment, or his liberal upbringing.