Antichrist – Art 6/5 Ent 2/5 Worth 6/5
Oh, hell na. Indeed, though this one isn’t hardly as much of a war crime on your psychology as A Serbian Film, this is the kind of movie you see on a dare. Those who aren’t squeamish and have the ability to remain cool under pressure may even be able to appreciate its Abrahamic indictment of the state of nature. Where Terrance Malick balances nature and grace in a dispassionate argument in The Tree of Life, Lars Von Trier falls off the fence and begins writing a Jeremiad in epic verse against the calculating fence. Von Trier’s uniquely invidious style actively tries to distance you from the art, if he isn’t insulting your dumb ass straight up. The Catholic director effectively redirects the swings of his flagellum from his back to all of ours. Antichrist is a lot of things, a wide array of very complicated, cruel and fearsome things. But easy to watch is not an appropriate descriptor.
The story follows He and She, a married couple played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, through the depths of an emotional hell and into a psychological wilderness of insanity. The opening scene, something film historians just may preserve in institutes across the world for its contrast of the sublime and the infernal, sees the couple slappin skins something fierce while their newborn crawls out a window, to the tune of Handel. The slow black and white scene without any dialog (the only one done up as such), would be the perfect aesthetic for a gold watch commercial for Rolex if they wanted to go out of business. Thereon out, Dafoe the psychiatrist tries to reduce Gainsbourg in her moment of grief as her rage boils up and overcomes her as a darkly anima seeking revenge … conveniently while they’re on a vacation to the woods in order to overcome her grief, with nobody around to intervene in case things get a little nutty. Aaand yeah, they surely do, they surely do.
If you strip away the grotesque and the provocative in Lars Von Trier’s work and public persona, and you disregard the eloquence of his filmic language, I don’t know if there’s much interesting to see there. He’s probably just a confused, regular guy who enjoys movies and shit disturbing. I don’t think Antichrist has an intelligent original message about humans as social creatures. The obviousness of psychological problems leaves this film somewhat retrograde, that is to say didn’t John Dryden and Alexander Pope make fun of highfalutin simplicity like this three centuries ago? We exist with not a little bit of hate, and evil in our DNA. Well, no shit Sherlock. Hannah Arendt pointed that out quite well with her concise observation on the banality of evil, which has been tested by psychologists and social scientists in experiments revealing a bit of the Lucifer in all of us. Do we still need the crutch of Biblical language to spell this out?
That it takes a gifted filmmaker-provocateur lifting liberally from the Bible to toss this message like a hand grenade into the public consciousness speaks mostly about how the mentality of modernity is fiercely constrained to the double edged sword of hope springing eternal. Forgetting the rust, the grime and the chafing swept under the carpet, we can go about improving life generally but at the expense of addressing more serious problems. Thankfully, gracefully, mercifully … Von Trier keeps us at arms length with his ‘message’ by throwing us off with surreal and horrific scenes that I won’t give away other than by saying what I started with: Oh, hell na.
People with a wild hair up their ass took Von Trier’s artistic message to mean something sinister on a non-artistic, social level because he trolled the media with hints that there was a tinge of misogyny to be found in this picture. The truth of the matter is that there’s a kernel of truth behind his invective, the story really does pattern itself on good old fashioned misogyny and the Biblical blaming of Eve for ruining everything. Of course, that’s just Lars being Lars, but he tapped into something very real and undeniable: a deep-seated mistrust, hatred and prejudice between the sexes, stemming either from an inability or sheer unwillingness to communicate that can only be tragically or annoyingly exacerbated by attempts to right the wrong.
But how wonderful it is that this message was brought to us by Lars Von Trier. He might just be that crazy cousin at Thanksgiving who says disturbing things with a giant smirk (that’s probably me too), but he’s a damned visual and narrative genius. Particular scenes drew from the influence of Andrei Tarkovsky (to whom both I and the picture are dedicated), such as well-crafted ‘sculpting in time’ that really milks the forest for all its worth, and visual architecture of slow trance-like camera movement and haunting interior shots. Before it was over, I was thinking to myself “this is absolutely a Tarko movie if he’d done horror”. Sure enough, both men have a religious eye in the camera. But this film confirms for me that the cosmic allegories, though genuinely and intensely visceral such as through this cruelly beautiful interpretation, are largely unnecessary overthinking of a very simple problem: all people have at least some bit of evil in them, man or woman.