Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Antichrist (2009)

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

VinyanNEW Vinyan: Lost Souls - Vinyan: Lost Souls (2008) (Blu-ray)Thriller - A Cruel PictureAntichrist (The Criterion Collection)Antichrist: (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]


Mr. Fiendish said...

I disagree. I wasn't engaged by the story or the characters. and i guess I've seen way too many films to get shocked by the violence or the explicit sex scenes.

I do give props to this movie for curing a really bad case of insomnia I was having at the time it came out.

Anonymous said...

I loved this film and don't see any of the misogynistic tones/actions that people claim. I feel as though the title of the film and situation they were in was a complete polar opposite to what 'Eden' stood for. That is, the place and their predicament served to show just how much both people had fallen and to display how much they had both lost touch with reality. I thought it was brilliant.

odenat said...

well, it seems that you are right saying that this film polarized the audiences, i hated it. The torture part was really sick and altough i agree that people must see whatever they want, when it comes to torture, i will gladly make exception. People must not be allowed to see these things, you never know how many sick people is out there waiting to do similar things to their victims.

Mr. Fiendish said...

the ignorance of your comment staggers the brain, odenat

Franco Macabro said...

@Mr. Fiendish: It is a slow paced film, more of a psychological thing, introspective.

@Planet of Terror: When it was released, reviews ranged from "great piece of art, daring filmmaking" to "this is misogynistic crap!" Polar opposites. I guess its a love it or hate it film. The more conservative side will find it repulsive, while the more artistic open minded side will see the value of the film and what its trying to say. Im right there with you, I thought it was a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

@Odenat: Im of the mind that an artist can express him or herself freely, reflecting the world we live in and the world we live in isnt always a pretty thing, in fact, most of the time its pretty damn bleak when you really look at things. Human nature has an extremely dark and violent side to it, and it needs to be explored and addressed in art and that includes films. It helps us see ourselves, and learn from how we see ourselves. Films like Antichrist do just that. How an audience will react to any given piece of art is out of the artists hands.

@Mr. Fiendish: Easy bro, respect is the key word here at The Film Connoisseur!

Thanks everybody for their comments!

Liam Underwood said...

I'm pleased you enjoyed this, for I really dug it when I caught it last year. The comparison to They Call Her One Eye hadn't occurred to me before, but now you've pointed it out I totally get that - nice observation!

I think the misogynist claims come from the fact that Von Trier is a director who puts not only his female characters through hell, but sometimes the actresses too - pushing to breaking point in some cases. I'm not sure if you've seen any of his other films, but I got the impression that critics familiar with Von Trier's work were prepared for misogynistic undertones, and so on the look out it is possible to interpret the film in such a way (woman as the cause for all evil, perhaps?). Von Trier does explicitly show She as a bad mother, and I feel this film is open to various interpretations. Personally, I don't think it is misogynistic, but I can see why others would.

When it comes to torture porn taking on a most literal meaning, I'd advise you check out A Serbian Film. It's a challenging piece of cinema, but worthy of discussion and I'd be curious to read your thoughts on it.

Anyway, this was an awesome review! Nice to see someone approaching Antichrist with an open mind.

Jack L said...

Excellent review!

Despite the film's controversy (or maybe because of it) I haven't seen this one yet. So I really can't comment on it as I try to avoid forming ideas of a film before seeing it.
I enjoyed your review though, very enjoyable to read!

Castor said...

Very polarizing movie and I'm glad you enjoyed it a lot more than many people including me ;) I really thought it was incredibly shocking and graphic just for the sake of being incredibly shocking and graphic. There was no real point to it and the characters weren't very engaging for me. Just my 2c.

Franco Macabro said...

@Liam Underwood: I've seen Dancer in the Dark and though it was a dark dark trip, I love that movie. On a technical level it was very impressive, considering how many cameras they used for some of the scenes, but also, the movie grabbed me, and yeah, he put Bjork through hell in that movie, but the result I think was worth it every step of the way, plus, it has that awesome Bjork soundtrack made specifically for the film.

For Antichrist, Von Trier was having a hard time finding his lead actress, but it was Charlotte Gainsbourg who knocked on Von Triers door to be in the film, she was dying to work with him on this one, so I guess she knew what she was getting herself into and who she was working with when she decided to be on this film. Her worked payed off, she won various awards for best actress, including the one at the Cannes Film Festival.

I agree the film is opened to various interpretations, but I went with the most obvious one, its about coping with death, and guilt over the death of their son, and the psychological hell they go through, to me Von Trier used religious references to show that.

Eden is really their psychological Hell, He is satan because he let the child die, and because he was distant towards both She and the child. I loved how Von Trier mixed all these religious references with the themes of the film.

I've heard a lot about A Serbian Film, and I've heard what is depicted in it, but damn, I dont know if I want to go there! Still, I like to test my limits, I'll probably end up checking it out sometime soon.

Thanks for your kind comments!

@JackL: Glad you enjoyed the review, hope you get around to seen this one!

Franco Macabro said...

@Castor: See, to me it was the complete opposite of that. To me it wasnt shocking simply for being shocking, there was a point, a message and a reason for it all.

It wasnt just a cheap horror film aiming to shock you and thats it, there were psychological implications for all of the characters actions. It was all very symbolic as well. Why did you feel the shock and violence was pointless? To me it would have been pointless had it no meaning or value, or message.

Thanks for commenting!

Liam Underwood said...

Dancer in the Dark is pretty good, as you say, dark but worthwhile. However, that's a perfect example of how Von Trier treats his female characters, she goes through such hell in that film and none of it is really her fault. However, it does always seem worthwhile by the end, with the film being an astonishing piece of cinema. But I do think there could be a case made for Von Trier as a misogynistic director (it's not an argument I'd comfortably back up, for I feel his outlook on male characters is also pretty damn bleak, but generally speaking feminists are the most vocal and so that's the message that seems to linger) - but I've seen the majority of his films now, and out of the ones I've seen only Medea seems to treat its female lead character with any ounce of decency.

It's been over a year since I saw Antichrist, and I have it ready due for a rewatch, but from memory the religious element does seem to be most prominent - even beyond the obvious references to Eden and so on. I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that Von Trier worked on Antichrist to help deal with either depression or grief of some sort, and so it's hardly surprising these themes shine through. Still, I am looking forward to giving it another watch and seeing if I come away with any different interpretations to my initial response.

The one thing I will say about A Serbian Film is, don't go in expecting to be too shocked. There's a lot of hype surrounding the film, and much has been said about it going "too far". Honestly, at times it's little more than an immature attempt at shocking, but the director does claim there's a political message being made with the film. Personally, I'm unfamiliar with Serbian politics, so this message was lost on me (except for some rather unsubtle dialogue). It's nowhere near the standards of Antichrist, but is nevertheless interesting and I think could play a pivotal role in where horror may go in the future.

Unknown said...

Excellent review of this very difficult, polarizing film. I saw it and once was enough for me. I'm glad I watched it but it wasn't easy - not a big fan of torture porn type material but I do think that Von Trier was trying to say something with this film above and beyond just resorting to cheap shock tactics. He is a fascinating filmmaker and I am always curious to see what he's going to do next. It's good that there's someone like him out there mixing it up and getting people talking and arguing about movies.

Franco Macabro said...

@Liam: Yet did you ever feel anything but sympathy for the main character in Dancer in the Dark? Was she not the one you were rooting for? She was helpless, and taken advantage of, something that happens a lot in real life. Why does it have to immediately be labeled as misogynistic? It's just a character who goes through a messed up situation, no matter what the characters sex is, it still would have been messed up.

Hey, I applaud Von Trier for putting women as the main characters in his films, I see that as a positive thing. But whatever you know, I hate to see films in those terms. ITs against women, or against men, I never even saw the film that way.

Here's something else to think about: In Antichrist, Willem Defoe's character does nothing but help She, he wants to help her out of the dark place she is in and is willing to do anything he can in order to do that. The male character treats the female with nothing but care and affection.

I am aware too that Misogyni can be self inflicted, and this is certainly the case with the female character in Antichrist. She hates herself for something that she considers was her fault. So the hatred and violence comes from herself.

Still, a lot has been said about the misogynistic aspects of Antichrist, but what of the hatred portrayed in the film towards He, towards the male? In Antichrist, its quite obvious She hates He. She goes through great lengths to demonstrate that hatred, yet nothing is mentioned of the misandrist elements in the film, of She's hatred towards He, towards the male element in the film.

But again, I refuse to see the film under those terms, to me it was a film about two people feeling guilty over something, and their psychological and physical reactions to that.

About the religious element in Antichrist, I just see a difference between making religious references in a film, and the film actually being about christianity or its teachings.

Thanks for the replies Liam, I love discussions like this one, love exploring the films themes.

@J.D.: Thanks J.D., totally agree with your comments, Antichrist was made simply for shocks like say, the latest SAW film, which had an extremely thin layer of depth or meaning to it, those films serve only as an excuse for the violence, not so with films like Antichrist. Its refreshing to see filmmakers doing films that actually have some depth to them.

Franco Macabro said...

LOL, I meant, Antichrist 'wasnt' made for shocks alone, sorry bout the typo.

Liam Underwood said...

Oh definitely, the majority of Von Trier's female characters evoke sympathy or even pite, yet if I were to adopt a feminist position (something which I am quite hesitant to do) I could argue that Von Trier's female characters lack many redeeming qualities within themselves. For example, Selma is hardly a positive rolemodel for a female audience, and while she does attempt to stand up for herself, she ultimately fails.

I completely agree that it is awkward in seeing films through the male/female perspective, I mean, we hardly want to get into Lara Mulvey's Male Gaze debate for that has been disproved and reworked and argued countless times to little avail.

An interesting Von Trier film to look at in terms of these themes and ideas would be Breaking the Waves, which I recommend if you haven't seen it. It portrays the leading lady in a very negative light, and is hardly favourable in its portrayal of the leading male character. As I said previously, I think Von Trier is equally harsh on both his female and male characters, but due to feminist discourse being more readily taken up than any sort of masculinity debate, it's the accusation of misogyny that is bandied around willynilly.

Indeed, I have enjoyed your replies and this conversation has been incredibly interesting, so thanks for that! I must confess, Von Trier is one of my favourite directors. Love his work, and I love seeing it appreciated and discussed.

Franco Macabro said...

I hate looking at films that way, in fact I really dont like the whole sexist debate thing, but I have to admit that Antichrist (and apparently the rest of Von Triers films) practically beg to see his films this way. I mean, the main characters are called 'He' and ' She'!

Im no expert on Von Trier, I've only seen Antichrist and Dancer in the Dark, but I am intrigued by the rest of his films. I will be watching Breaking the Waves Mandarlay coming up as well as The Idiots. Thanks for the recommendations and the interesting discussion!

venoms5 said...

I haven't seen this yet, Fran, but will be checking it out in due course. It sounds very intriguing.

odenat said...

@The Film Connoisseur: Thanks for debating peacefully, i see your points clearly but i can not be neutral when one of my friends faced torture at the hands of our country's glorious(!) security force.

@Mr. Fiendish: If your brain is staggered, that's because there's not much of it. Learn to debate.

Franco Macabro said...

@Odenat: I can see why you wouldnt want to see a film with violence towards woman, but I dont think Antichrist portrays violence in that way.

Thanks for your comments!

I Like Horror Movies said...

I didnt find ANTICHRIST to be misogynistic in any way whatsoever. It is the wife that causes the greatest bodily harm, her husband is nurturing to her and caring up until the insane shift in tone. I'm surprised to even hear that that interpretation exists for the film?

Franco Macabro said...

Believe it or not Carl, that was one of many reactions the film got from big critics over at Cannes. Some people got up and left the theater...thats really something for a film to cause such a big emotional reaction on people. That's a reaction not seen very often, good or bad, it makes people react, feel something. Thats the best kind of movie in my book!


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