Fantastic Fest Review: ANTICHRIST

GATW Guest Writer

by: GATW Guest Writer
September 29th, 2009

antichrist

Rating: 8/10

Writer/Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg

I am, and always have been, a big-time fan of Lars von Trier. That being said, I’ve always taken his films not only with a huge chunk of salt, but also recognized just how much he’s trying to fuck with his audience. To me he’s always been like that drunk, asshole friend who might stick his dick in your beer at a party or worse, slip you an Ex Lax and then videotape the ensuing mess. Von Trier has always reveled in his ability to irk, anger, and confuse an audience, as well as make you laugh at things or think about them in a way that makes you uncomfortable. But I feel provocation is an important part of cinema and I’d rather be messed with and prodded to react that pandered to any day of the week.

So after hearing all the hullabaloo from Cannes following the premiere of von Trier’s latest, the shocking and beautiful ANTICHRIST, I braced myself for more von Trier shenanigans. I had heard of audience freak-outs and walkouts and a Q&A where it was demanded that von Trier “explain himself” and tell everyone just what act he was trying to commit onscreen. Then there was all the talk of “torture porn” and genital mutilations. I figured it was all just cinema’s resident provocative imp back to his old tricks. Then I saw the film and it’s nothing like what you’ve been led to believe. Well, mostly.

The premise of the film revolves around an unnamed couple whose toddler son has tumbled out the window to his death as the couple was engaging in some intense, balls slappin’ sex. Gainsbourg’s character is devastated and falls into a deep, dark depression while Dafoe’s character, a therapist, remains coolly detached from his emotions, sans one mini-meltdown during the funeral. The couple decides to make a trek to their cabin in the woods (unfortunately and clumsily named “Eden”) where Dafoe seeks to help Gainsbourg overcome her fears by forcing her to face them. From here, the film slowly and steadily dips into madness as Gainsbourg turns on Dafoe and a surrealist nightmare unfolds all around.

While there are many trite and goofy provocations throughout ANTICHRIST, I truly believe this is von Trier’s most personal film. I also think it’s his first real attempt at honest filmmaking and, while he still has much to learn (such as character development and subtlety), ANTICHRIST deserves to be heralded as a great film. Not to mention the fact that ANTICHRIST is the most beautiful film of the year.

Due to his frequent outbursts, drunken behavior, and much publicized anxieties, von Trier has managed to paint himself in a corner as a nut-job with major creativity. But because of his weirdness, few really take him seriously. So when ANTICHRIST delves headlong into subjects he’s only lightly brushed upon before (gender roles, feminism), it’s tough to believe he’s attempting more than dime-store shock appeal. Anyone who’s seen a few of von Trier’s movies knows he either hates women or is terrified of them…or both. And those misogynistic fears are front and center here, and while it’s sad and disturbing to see a man who feels so threatened, it’s the way von Trier feels and that’s honest. Hitchcock was also terrified of and/or hated women but he managed to couch these feelings in an allegorical, visual, and narrative way. Von Trier just isn’t that refined. However, I think he’s trying.

In ANTICHRIST, the audience really starts to despise Dafoe and it’s easy to see why Gainsbourg turns on him. But not so easy to see is who von Trier is supposed to represent in the story. Is he the overly analytical and ultimately inhuman Dafoe character, or is he the sensitive and sad, but ultimately insane Gainsbourg character? Or is he both or neither? Is the film really as personal as I think it is or is this just more shuck and jive bullshit from von Trier. I don’t know! But it’s all worthy of discussion and to me, that’s a big plus.

The issue lies in the fact that von Trier is very much the boy-who-cried-wolf. In hundreds of interviews over the years, von Trier has maintained his craziness and his anxieties and these words and actions stand out as much as his films do. Yet aside from using his insanity as a half-assed explanation for his more agitating films, ,and motives, he’s never really tried to reach out to an audience and explain himself and his feelings. Does he really mean it this time? By using the cinematic landscape laid out by Alfred Hitchcock and Andrei Tarkovsky (the latter of whom the film is dedicated to) to express himself, I think ANTICHRIST is truly an attempt to connect with an audience and move forward as a filmmaker and maybe even a human being. Whether or not it works, or better, whether the audience can find the forest of beauty through the trees of cringe-worthy violence, is another story completely.

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