Written by: Ralph Wooster
Directed by: Lars von Trier
Art films. I love them for their raw courage to tackle topics too gut wrenching for mainstream cinema and their gorgeous experimental cinematography. I hate them for their pretentious over-intellectualizations and their mind-numbingly slow pace. It’s said, only half jokingly I suspect, that a film is not art unless its audience is made to suffer at least as much as its characters.
The 2009 film Antichrist is actually one of the more accessible art house films I’ve seen. Dafoe and Gainsbourg’s performances are herculean and the cinematography is like nothing else in this world, but make no mistake, this movie will make you suffer. The pace is slow, but that’s not why. No, Antichrist will make you squirm in your seat, cover your eyes, and squeal like a little girl, and oh God is it dark. Dark and graphic. After it’s all over, you’ll never get what you’ve seen completely out of your head.
Want to break up with your girlfriend and make her think it was her idea? On movie night, cue this puppy up and hit play. Oh, it might not happen right then, but the seeds will have been sown. She’ll not forget who burned those images into her brain. It was you, you sick fuck.
Long ago, a friend who worked for a trucking company emailed me an attachment entitled horse.avi. I should have known better than open it. It was like a Pandora’s box made in Tijuana. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t close it and I’ll never be the same again. Some images stay with you for life.
I have a small collection of such memories from the movie Antichrist. In particular there’s that scene where Willem Dafoe’s character He first encounters the fox. I’ll never forget that for as long as I live, which is not to say that this movie was of the same epic scorched earth magnitude as horse.avi for irrevocably disturbing images. It wasn’t. I draw the comparison because both possessed that same vivid photographic effect, that same permanence of memory. Between the two however, it was the difference of a meat cleaver and a scalpel as to how that was accomplished. Either instrument can in a manner of speaking perform brain surgery, but only the latter is likely to leave the patient with a pulse. One is a blood bath, the other, art.
It is highly applicable to say that the writer/director Lars von Trier was performing a kind of brain surgery with this movie. As therapy, he trepanned the demons from his own head and exorcised them onto the screen. Trier suffers from terrible bouts of clinical depression and was institutionalized during the writing of Antichrist‘s screenplay. Upon release, he rewrote it but all through its creation as well as production, the film was in serious danger of not being completed. A number of scenes in this movie are straight out of Trier’s dreams and nightmares from that time period.
On its surface, Antichrist deals with the subjects of grief, anxiety, and depression as the character She’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) overall mental health declines after the loss of her son. Willem Dafoe plays the role of He, her husband and therapist by trade, who attempts to treat her by exposing her to her fears. To accomplish this therapy, they retreat to their cabin in the woods which they call Eden.
Antichrist‘s theme is constructed around that whole naughty fruit eating incident in The Bible, the Garden of Eden. The garden story as interpreted by Christians in the Dark and Middle ages, put blame for the fall of Man on Eve, and by extension upon women as a whole. This church doctrine, known as original sin, led to the widespread belief that women as a gender were inherently untrustworthy and far more receptive to the wiles of Satan than men. In this movie, the Devil represents chaos, nature is his church, and all womankind, his congregation.
Under the skin, muscle, and sinew, deep down in the marrow of Antichrist‘s bones, you’ll find The Shining. Most of the basic plot elements are there, just switched around or substituted for with equivalents. There’s even an “all work and no play” scene in the cabin attic. However, the new plot built upon those old bones is so thoroughly reimagined that I think it stands well on its own as an original work.
For me, Antichrist is art. A unique creation. An intellectual, self-emasculating, exploitation torture porn drama/horror that is widely perceived as misogynic, but with cinematographic shots and lighting like masterwork paintings in the fashion that only art house movies can deliver.
It’s also shocking, deeply disturbing, and depressingly dark. Antichrist is as dark a movie as you’re likely ever to see and that doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation, but like most art, it isn’t accessible to everyone. Brave soul that you are, you have to decide rather than be repulsed by that sickly outer surface, that you want dive deep and see what lies below.
If you’re not sure about taking that plunge, I encourage you to do so. See Antichrist for its breathtaking beauty, for the superb acting, and for its uber creepy atmosphere, but most of all, I encourage you to see it because if I have to walk around with these images in my head, you should too.