Sunday, November 22, 2009

An AntiChrist Worth Heiling

AntiChrist, from director Lars Von Trier, possesses a purity that lifted me high.

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.


  1. I didn't much like this one, which isn't hard to say because I don't think it was meant to be enjoyed. Too cerebral for me, and too pretentious (I hate using that word because it's ridiculous to even try to qualify it). That said, I thought the fox scene was very clever and the cinematography (especially the forest scenes) was very artful. I hate when my expectations get the better of me. Doesn't happen often, and I should have known better than to entertain any expectation with a Von Trier film.

    Have you heard the hype on festival darling The Human Centipede yet? Sounds like that may be the one to deliver the visceral punches that early press for Antichrist led me to believe it would would have. Funny, the first thing I read about Antichrist was basically a prolonged spoiler of the genital mutilaton scenes that gave the audience the usual bouts of fainting, puking, and walking away that these notorious films pegged as "shockers" are known for. That's sorta why I hate reading mainstream movie news and reviews.

  2. This may be the first positive review that I've read about this film so far. I like your taste in film so I'll probably check it out as soon as I get a chance.

  3. There's been a lot of positive reviews (maybe not in US media, but who cares about them?) of this movie, and I love it. It's a masterpiece and the best stuff Von Trier done since The Idiots.

  4. I thought it was very impressive but a bit like work at times.

  5. d -- yes, probably not meant to be "enjoyed" in the conventional sense. My expectations were through the roof, so it didn't satisfy those, but once I accepted the (at times) very slow pace, I found things to like.

    When I read mainstream reviews and contrast them with my responses to same, it reminds me just how conservative the mainstream is. ANTICHRIST was not shocking.

    THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is in my orbit, too. I haven't seen it yet, though. You may be aware that Wakamatsu's new feature is CATERPILLAR (from the Rampo story already filmed by Sato in RAMPO NOIR). I am totally hanging out for this and have already heard one great review (a good friend) of the rough cut. I can't wait!


    Rev -- yes, my reaction was definitely positive, but how I felt about it was different to how I thought I would feel. I wish I could bury my expectations. But impossible!


    Ninja -- I concur that it's his best for a long time. I haven't liked too many of his recent efforts.


    Paul -- if by "hard work" you mean accepting the pace I'm with you. It's not easy from a narrative standpoint, but it has stayed with me.

  6. Genital mutilation and it's reception tends to vary according to who does it, and in what context. The self harming in 'Piano Teacher' seems to have been given the thumbs up for the most part, because although it stands out, it is buried in an artful, mostly innocuous, poetic treatise on frustration.

    I seem to remember the fish hooks in either the 'Eel', or the 'Isle' (& I'm too tired to check which) was ok for the same reason. There are other examples, of course. I note that in MY experience, I have seen mostly female mutilation. A few exceptions; 'The Valachi Papers', and I will never forget the 'I Spit' castration as long as I live. But the latter movie will never be forgiven in my lifetime, for a variety of ridiculous reasons.

    My point is that this discussion is a moveable feast. Context. Mutilation and how it sits can depend so much on 'location, location, location' rather than the act.

    My conclusion is that I was not going to bother with 'AntiChrist', but if the Phantom saw merit in it, then I will step out this weekend...

  7. I know this is going to sound a bit frivolous in comparison to the subject matter of this post but whenever i see or think about Charlotte Gainsbourg i immediately think about her gorgeous mother Jane Birkin rolling about on the floor in that photography studio with Gillian Hills (another gorgeous bird) having her tights pulled off by David Hemmings (the lucky bastard) in the odd, edgy, 1966 cult item Blow-Up (made 5 years before Charlotte was even born), i suppose its just the way my mind works, Charlotte Gainsbourg = Jane Birkin at age 20 completely naked, that scene always used to drive me wild i just wish that stupid bastard Hemmings hadn`t been in it then Jane and Gillian could have pulled each others tights off which would have been much better.

  8. When I go to see a film with allegedly disturbing subject matter, I expect to be DISTURBED. Von Trier disturbed me here, and not just with the violence; I thought the opening b&w sequence was powerfully haunting (it stood with me throughout the film), and the ending was perfect.
    I was quite impressed with Roger Eberts review (and breakdown of the symbolism), although I'd love to know if his interpretation was what Von Trier had in mind.

  9. mandingo -- interesting genital mutilation parallels, Mr. A. All very legitimate. It is fascinating how the act can be legitimized by better aesthetics. That Korean was was 'The Isle'.


    willy -- just mentioning that scene gets my temperature rising. Your mentioning the word "tights" sends me into paroxysms of lust. I agree that Hemmings should have vacated the room and left Jane and Gillian to their own devices.


    Nick -- yes, it's a very effective movie, and very satisfying. I admired Ebert's take, too. I'm quite a fan of Ebert. I don't always agree with him (which is not necessary), but I always respect his logic.