Monday, December 14, 2009

Lars Von Trier's Antichrist (2009)

Black and white, slow motion, and an operatic voice singing, following a title card which reads Antichrist, with its "t" the gender symbol for woman, a man (Willem Dafoe) and a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are fucking. Despite the absence of any sound from the film's participants, who also include a baby boy, it is quite obvious that the couple is making a lot of noise, from knocking over a bottle, to fucking up against a clothes dryer during full spin, beyond their own shrieks and moans. A baby monitor transitions the scene from the couple to the baby's bedroom, as the child knocks the monitor with his toy and crawls out of bed. The child comes within earshot of the man and woman; and he crawls upon a desk in front of an open window, whereupon he knocks off three statues, each reading "pain," "grief," and "despair," respectively, to the floor. The child is not heard as he steps upon the window's threshold, before plummeting.
New title card, Chapter 1, Grief. With color, the couple is presumably walking away from the child's funeral. The woman collapses and is hospitalized. Her physician thinks she is "atypical" and has put her on a series of medications. The man thinks her physician is over-medicating her and that "grief" is a natural emotion that she should experience. The woman believes that the man "thinks he's so much smarter than the other doctor." He tells her that he loves her. The man takes the woman as his patient to undergo therapy, despite their shared belief that therapists shouldn't counsel their own family members. Back at home, the woman is not adjusting well with her grief and she accuses the man of being indifferent to his child's death. Her accusation could be true, as it initially seems as if the man is focusing on the woman's grief and emotional state as a way of not dealing with his own (later when an autopsy report comes in the mail, the man folds the letter and places it unopened in his jacket). She also accuses him of being distant towards her in the past, and now, only as his patient, is the man taking in interest in her. The man doesn't outright deny her accusation, and it would initially seem that she's correct. The man believes that it is his duty (as a therapist or her lover or both is unknown) to help her through the post-tragedy stages, such as "grief" and "pain." Despite his lack of showing of these stages, himself, the woman is going to initiate (or help bring out) these stages of emotions from the man, after they take a trip to a forest named "Eden." Lars Von Trier's Antichrist (2009) has some seriously overt and obvious symbolism and seems a film adaptation of Nietzschean philosophy. The intimate, signature Dogme scenes of the man and the woman alone, sharing their feelings and being vulnerable with each other, seem distractions from the meticulously-crafted and contrived scenes, like the film's subjective renderings of the woman's therapeutic sessions as she walks in the forest. Antichrist is also the very definition of provocative, but what emotions or feelings this film is attempting to provoke or elicit from the viewer is unknown to me. Visually, Antichrist is stunning. All compositions feel meticulously composed and nearly every frame could stand on its own as a beautiful still picture.
As the film descends past its first act into the forest with its lush, overgrown greenery, whatever individual identity both the man and the woman are initially shown to have begins to disappear. Likewise, the natural imagery receives more attention from Von Trier, and the lighting becomes more seamless, so everything on screen becomes slightly darker and murkier (or even a heavy fog comes in to cover the scenery). Nature and humanity become close to becoming one. Whatever is at the essence of either nature or humanity ain't that pretty.
Von Trier's post-Dancer in the Dark (2000) films feel to me extremely mean-spirited, and Antichrist continues his streak. Mean-spiritedness is an emotion, like enthusiasm, which is very difficult for the artist to hide with his or her work. I once believed that the same filmmaker who made the brilliant Breaking the Waves (1996) and The Idiots (1998) was the finest living film maker: Von Trier's work personified everything I admired in an artist: playful, socially-critical, creative, and risk-taking. Von Trier's work is still like that, but he's added another another dimension, and it's to his detriment.


Jeff Allard said...

Thanks for the great write-up! I keep going back on forth on whether I want to see this or not. I have a feeling it's going to be a real endurance test and I'm not sure what, if anything, I'll be getting out of it in return.

Aaron said...

Great review, Hans. I didn't necessarily enjoy this movie but I still liked it a lot if that makes any sense. If I were to make a top ten list for 2009, this would probably be in the top three. I'm actually not a Von Trier fan at all so I can't compare it to anything else he's done, so maybe my opinion might be a little different had I seen his other films. I own Dancer In The Dark but I can never get past the first 20 minutes for some reason because it bores the shit out of me. Anyway, I really liked the symbolism in ANTICHRIST and I've read other reviews that have called the movie "misogynist" and "anti-woman", which I agree with. From what I gathered, the title of the film refers to woman being the antichrist, but I could be wrong. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on what you interpreted from the film. Sorry for the long comment. Again, great review as always!

Mr.LargePackage said...

Interesting review, Hans. Your review reminds me of what my father told me after my goldfish died. He sat me down and looked me in the eyes and told me very politely to "get the fuck over it". My father also wrote some very beautiful poetry in his free time. And that is large and in charge.