It pans its unblinking lens towards a couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe) whose relationship disintegrates in the aftermath of a tragic event (the death of a child).
Tragedy compels us to re-examine ourselves and our relationship with those around us. When my ex-wife's mother died stricken with pancreatic cancer, she (the ex-) began a re-evaluation of priorities that led, ultimately, to the abrupt dissolution of our relationship. We would have parted eventually, anyway, for we had been drifting in different directions for some years, but the death of her mother encouraged expedience.
Much has been written about Von Trier's alleged "misogyny". Many reviewers have called the film misogynistic. I have problems with the term and its casual application. A misogynist is a man who hates women. Hates them. Loathes them. Would rather stay clear of them. Unless you're a crackpot, you usually stay away from the things you hate.
Von Trier's producer, Meta Louise Foldager, a smart, creative, tough woman I've enjoyed brief correspondence with, is a woman. She produced AntiChrist, and she'll be producing his next film. If Von Trier's hate for women is as palpable as some critics suggest, Miss Foldager must be a masochist. If that isn't true, and she's not a masochist, it follows that Von Trier must not be a misogynist.
When a man depicts the genital mutilation or rape of a woman on-screen, he is accused of misogyny. When a woman such as Catherine Breilet does it in a film like the excellent Fat Girl, she is praised for powerful filmmaking.
Von Trier's AntiChrist is powerful filmmaking for reasons that include the graphic scenes but are definitely not confined to them. To me, the film is an honest, gentle exploration of both human nature and, as the top poster trumpets, "Nature as Satan's church" (an essay on how nature exists in a state of anarchy). In Von Trier's world, our primal instincts are easily triggered because they reside in shallow foxholes barely beneath our skin. When we appear to go haywire (embrace our primivitism), as Gainsbourg does, our "crazy" behavior becomes fascinating to ourselves and others, and we become participants in our own personal freakshow.
Dafoe's character, a psychiatrist, attempts to "cure" Gainsbourg as she flails in the midst of grief and depression. His cold, clinical response to her condition (treating her as a patient rather than a partner) becomes part of the engine that drives her animosity towards him.
The genital mutilation scenes are fairly graphic. Gainsbourg does slice off her clitoris as she gathers up her vagina lips. Dafoe's penis gets a serious beating, too, although we don't see much of its post-beating state. Oddly, the most disturbing act of violence in the film does not involve genitalia, but I'll leave it to you to discover it.
Is the film shocking? Not to me. It's simply a film of serious merit.
"Chaos reigns!" says a fox in one of the film's most surprising and hilarious sequences, efficiently expressing the glee with which Von Trier is attacking his subject. Although the set-up is deadly serious, the resolution underlines the fact that everything comes full circle, and nothing lingers forever.
In a world where unoriginality is currently reigning, AntiChrist is evidence that hope, at least, is circling the compound.
Stylistically, the film occasionally employs an effective super-slow motion technique that almost but not quite freezes the image.
This technique was employed by Tony Kaye in the superb American History X, and there is a shot of water cascading from a shower in Kaye's film that is replicated here -- coincidence perhaps, but worth noting.