AntiChrist

AntiChrist | Horror | rated NC-17 or Unrated (A,L,N,S,V,G) | starring William Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg | written & directed by Lars Von Trier |1:48 mins

After the accidental death of their infant child, a nameless couple (William Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) venture off to a cabin in the woods where the husband, a psychologist, tries to help his wife work through her feelings of guilt. As they both process their grief in different ways they start to suspect each other in the child’s death and paranoia takes hold.

Iconoclastic filmmaker Lars Von Trier opens AntiChrist with a bold, outwardly aggressive sequence of tragic beauty to declare his intentions. The sequence: in which a couple have slow-motion sex while their child falls out a window, is a potential future classic in it’s thoroughly explored simplicity. Von Trier’s intention: seemingly to uproot the very fabric of cinema convention and shock his audience along the way. 

I had a reaction to AntiChrist I almost never have and did not expect. I actually found myself wanting it to play more in the lines, feeling unsatisfied by it’s refusal of basic expectations. Such arrogance. And then I had to catch myself. This is a good thing. The movie flings the viewer out there with no safety net, no idea where it is going or what it is doing. No familiar narrative to grab on to.

But I also had another thought. A nagging one that persisted the whole movie that kept the movie’s freewheeling narrative anarchy from being as invigorating and refreshing as it should have been: “What is Von Trier saying here?”. Watching the movie is less like watching a movie, getting sucked into a story, and more like standing in a museum looking at a painting. It takes the nature of film away from storytelling right up to abstract art and asks what you want from your movies. It plays with the visual medium of film, unfolded with symbolic characters, metaphors and bizarre, nightmarish imagery.

The imagery is where the movie excels. From start to finish, spiking at act breaks of talking animals and sequences of brutal violence fully warranting it’s NC-17 rating with cringing money shots of male and female genital mutilation. It isn’t scary or intense, but it is gory and shocking which- let’s be honest – is not difficult to do, bordering on hacky, when you’re just showing boundary breaking genital mutilation. Von Trier knows what pushes people’s buttons and simply put it on the big screen in unflinching terms like a grinning little kid.

AntiChrist supposedly exists in a world where the devil created the world as opposed to God.  And as a result nature itself is evil. It’s a fascinating idea, but it’s also all supplemental material from Von Trier’s mouth at Caanes. You don’t get any of that from the movie. It is too intentionally hazy to string together his own message. In a lot of ways – keeping with the religious symbols of He and She in a wooded area called Eden – he pushes a story in which women are inherently evil and then in the same breath denouncing modern psychology as it is so callously used by Dafoe’s character to rush Gainsbough’s past her feelings and condescend to her to the point of madness. Gainsbough gives a tour de force performance here.

While the symbolism in AntiChrist is obvious, what Von Trier is actually saying is murky and pretentiously not connected for the sake of being “open to interpretation”. The movie is on one hand too metaphorical and lacking any real characters to be a satisfying story and on the other hand too much of a story – a tangible tale of revenge, grief and punishment – to be taken as completely symbolic. But just because it is a work of symbolism, doesn’t make it inherently great, Von Trier’s lack of imagination and self-indulgence makes sure of that. Ultimately AntiChrist just falls in the “Weird” category, not entirely film as visual art, but a step in that direction.

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