Title: Antichrist (2009)
Director/Writer: Lars Von Trier
Cast: Willem Defoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Going into a movie like Antichrist there’s one thing you have to know, it’s going to be a shocking, dark and depressing affair. This is probably why it took me a while to finally get around to watching it; I knew this wasn’t the kind of film you can watch at just any moment. You have to be in the right mood to watch a movie like this one, a deliberately dark psychological piece. So I guess I was ready for something dark when I finally got around to it. Antichrist is a film that caused a major uproar when it was first released, reportedly people even fainted during its screening at Cannes. Audiences were immediately polarized by the film as is usually the case with films that are graphic, violent and have strong thematic and psychological elements. Films like this one don’t subscribe to anyone’s rules, they exist on their own universe and you have to adapt to it if you’re going to go for this ride.
Antichrist is the story of He (Willem Defoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a couple who are coping with the death of their baby boy. You see, one night, while they were having sex, their baby boy wakes up and decides he wants to walk about the house. He is then hypnotized by the white snow falling outside, so he takes a chair steps up to the open window to look at the snow. When he tries to reach out to the snow, he falls to his death! This of course traumatizes both parents, but because He is a psychologist, He deals with it better then She does. I guess being a psychologist, He knows how to deal with this kind of situation a little better. But She is destroyed, She doesn’t know how to continue with her life and blames herself. Will She ever recuperate? Will going to a cabin in the forest to deal with their inner demons make matters any better?
So this film caused an uproar for various reasons, one of them is its sexually explicit images that border on pornographic. Actually, scratch that, they don’t border on porn, they are porn. Antichrist reminded me of They Call Her One Eye (1974) a revenge flick from the seventies that did the same exact thing. It’s a film with a story, and a plot, but suddenly when characters have sex; it’s not simulated like in most films. When characters have sex in They Call Her One Eye (a.k.a. Thriller: A Cruel Picture) suddenly what you are seeing is a porn film, with as sexually explicit images as those you’d find in a porn flick. But don’t go on thinking that Antichrist is a porn film because it isn’t. It’s a regular film, with an involving story and plot, but when it comes to nudity or sex, it doesn’t hold back at all. Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg had no problem in showing their junk on this flick, though in the most sexually explicit scenes, it’s not them you are seeing, but their porn star body doubles. Still, these are very daring performances; these actors really exposed themselves both physically and emotionally.
But aside from the explicit sexual images, the film was also accused of being misogynistic. Meaning it was throwing a lot of hate towards females. I don’t agree so much with this point of view. I mean, this is a woman who lost her son, of course she is going to be depressed and angry and maybe even a little violent. What is the problem with portraying a character like that? When you watch this film you feel as if She is a ball of negativity, every comment, every thought that She says is downright depressing and sad. There is not an ounce of positivity on this female character; she spews hatred and anger with every word she says. I don’t blame her for it, and I think for all intents and purposes it’s an accurate portrayal of a woman filled with guilt over the death of her son. In this way, the film reminded me a whole lot of Fabrice Du Welz’s Vinyan (2008), another film about a couple dealing with the death of their sons. Actually, both of these films are similar in more ways then one, but I’ll let you discover that on your own when you see them.
Roger Ebert gave a very religious interpretation of the film, stating that the death of the son represented “the fall of man” and that He and She are Adam and Eve and what have you, but I don’t think this was Von Trier’s purpose with this film. And if you guys know me, if I find religious symbolisms in a film I will point them out if need be, but to me this is not really a religious film even though it’s called Antichrist. To me Antichrist was really just a catchy title looking to grab people’s attention; trying to create some ‘controversy’ which is always a good thing for any film. The forest where He and She run off to is called Eden, but it is not a paradise, in fact, its pure hell for both characters. Both characters can be seen as Adam and Eve in the sense that they are stripping their souls bare naked, same as Adam and Even walked naked in the biblical Garden of Eden. Defoe is seen as ‘Satan’ by She, but only because she blames him and herself for the death of the baby. So the film does use a couple of biblical references here and there, but I doubt Von Trier was trying to give us his interpretation of the bible or something. This was a film about death, and accepting it as part of life. There this scene in the film in which a bird falls from a nest to the ground, as soon as it hits the ground, we see it was already dead, and ants begin to eat its rotting carcass. She looks at this and begins to cry, the scene was a slap in the face towards She, a wake up call of sorts letting her know that death is a part of life and that sometimes nature is cruel and doesn’t play nice all the time. That’s a cold hard fact. You can be walking fine and dandy down the street one day, three seconds later, a bus passes by and kills ya. Who could have known? Nobody, that’s who. But that’s life, and randomness and chaos goes hand in hand with it.
Speaking of nature, in this film, nature takes a dark, cruel tone. The forest seems evil just by the way it was lit, or by how the shadows and natural light play on the trees. Animals aren’t cute little things like in a Disney film, they seem evil, imperfect. Nature in this film isn’t pretty, its dark and violent; not to be trusted. Von Trier mentions that we might hang a painting of a forest in our living room as if its something beautiful and sweet, yet at the same time it represents hell, with all sorts of different species trying to kill each other in order to survive, to Von Trier, the world is reigned by chaos and randomness. Same as the world we live in. In the film, the forest is also representative of the hell that He and She are living through. And finally, Im gonna comment a bit about the films violence, which is also pretty graphic. During its last half hour, Antichrist gets really intense and suddenly becomes the true definition of ‘torture porn’. Swear to god its even more torture porn then stuff you’d see in any modern horror movies! I wasn’t expecting that from an artful picture like this one! But the violence in Antichrist is pretty shocking in deed, I’d never seen anything like that on any film before. Kudos to Von Trier for conjuring up some truly disturbing images! And for directing a film that captures characters in dark emotion turmoil, not all films have to be about cute little animals singing and talking. There is a dark side to human nature and it needs to be represented in art as well, without a necessity to justify where the film goes. This is art, and art imitates life, can’t blame an artist like Von Trier for doing just that.
Rating: 5 out of 5
A serious film, from a very serious director