I just realized that I've been waiting to review this movie for a long time...Antichrist is a difficult movie to categorize and in some ways an even more difficult movie to watch. But it is worth the watch. Lars von Trier does not explain the movie piece by piece so if you are looking for 'the big idea' (as I often find myself doing), you might be disappointed. That being said, I hope you can see beyond that to what the film does have to offer.
WTF = 27
T = 9
The story centers around a grieving couple who lost their son - the scenes of his death being the beginning of the movie, shot in black and white slow-motion. When I first saw the opening sequences, I thought I was going to be watching a modern fart film. To a degree, this was true - the film is what you could call "artsy"...to an extent - that it's told in four chapters with weird title sequences and dreamy music and sounds. Also the preview makes it look like an existential art film. But it wasn't so bad as to give me acid reflux as films and books that get vacu-sucked up their own philosophical anus tend to do. There was more substance to this story, and the watcher is slammed into that substance as soon as the death scene ends, with the parents following the hearse to the grave site, utterly horrified by the reality that they are burying their infant son.
The cycles of denial, anger, blame, and so on begin in earnest when Willem Dafoe (the shizzy) protests his wife's (Charlotte Gainsbourg) - and her doctor's - choice of confinement in a hospital/mental ward based on the belief that he can help her heal better at home. It appears at this point that the death of their son has driven her batty, but when they return home, her behavior cycles downward from ferocious sex to the beginnings of hurting herself and her husband. When the first real fits of violence begin, Dafoe's character decides (much like the fabulous decision-maker, Jack Torrance) that it's a great idea to go to the place where his wife feels most afraid and vulnerable to face and confront her fears. Riiight. This place, she decides, is a cabin in a forest called "Eden", a place so isolated they have to walk for most of the journey through woods, a place where calling for help would be about as effective as autotune is for Katy Perry. Dafoe's character, a psychiatrist, pushes the limits of his wife because he believes he has the background and knowledge to be in control, but what they find at the cabin is an indomitable mix of the imaginary and the occult.
The couple dives further into insanity and it becomes apparent that neither of them are really 'sane'. I use that word carefully, because I am still not entirely sure what it means and I get pissed when people think they have the absolute definition. I can only conjecture at best that it resembles getting through life and being able to enjoy it and gradually learning to be yourself without hurting anyone beyond what it takes to make progress (i.e. straining yourself to achieve something or beat a dependence or addiction or negative behavior - no pain no gain = okay vs. chopping family members to pieces, freeze-drying them and eating them for several holiday meals = not okay). But that's a very loose interpretation. I do manage not to chop people up, but there are some days when I wonder if a couple of artfully wielded axes in the right hands would not make the world less painfully stupid. Today on the news I heard that a woman got arrested for dialing 911......... because she got a bad manicure...(please hold for brief screaming fit). Ahem. On my off days, I find myself musing: "And why do we need this asshole?"
But I do indeedly digress. Point being, it is people who drive themselves and each other batshit. Dafoe and Gainsbourg's characters are isolated into the dim corners of their own headfucks and what is conjured or imagined becomes beautifully/hideously blurred. The plot contorts into the strange back-story of Gainsbourg and her young son on their trip to the cabin the previous summer to complete her "thesis" on the validity of the witch trail sentences. While the whole thesis idea annoys me (having done a thesis myself and finding the majority of the topics in process and in nature to be more political and institutional wankery than mindblowing steps forward for mankind) it does frame the following background question nicely: are human beings (more specifically women) evil?
I dunno. I often ask...AM I EVIL?
The setting of Eden and the self-punishing nature of the mourning guilty mother is almost cumbersome with Eve symbolism, but does well at forcing that question on the audience. I think I lot of people could easily read the film as misogynistic. I don't think it's necessarily about women-hating, but more along the lines of people hating, since the wife tries to chastise herself and her husband. I think self-loathing is the most damaging aspect of humanity, yet we all do it to an extent, and the more of ourselves we destroy, the more it affects others around us. The background is witch trials, but I really felt that the mother and father of the dead child are standing trial. The 'big idea' I was searching for was: who's the judge?
Nevertheless, the word 'evil' to me is about as ambiguous as the word 'sane'. I guess that's why I liked this movie so much, not necessarily the search for explanations (which I always do anyway) but reveling in all of the QUESTIONS. Why do we hurt the ones we love? Is having children selfless or selfish? (Few ever really own up to it that they should not have had kids, but I see those people all the time). Is there a God/Devil or Good/Evil or a fine line between Sanity/Insanity? What is the destructive/creative force behind what this couple is doing to each other? And to what end? The ambiguity of these questions measured up to the images von Trier gives us makes for a strange puzzle that I had to revisit.
The imperfections of this film are many. One of them is Dafoe's character. You get a background of Gainsbourg and her psychosis, but all you really get from Dafoe's history (or lack thereof) is that he was often an absentee husband and father and that he takes his work more seriously than he does his family. Even those bits and pieces come from Gainsbourg's interpretation of him not being there or not wanting to be there. I also don't have any qualms with nudity, but I got tired of bobbing man ass within the first thirty minutes and tired of genitals altogether by the end of the film. I'm sure there was a reason for like six bobbing Dafoe ass scenes and seeing Gainsbourg's bush like 47 times, but haven't yet figured that out. Perhaps something to do with the banality of the body or fleshy sin, but I sense perhaps more to do with film wank. I got the sense at a few points that this was shock-gore for shock-gore's sake, but then again, measured up to the rest of the movie, there's kind of a place for it.
Lastly but not leastly, this film is VISUALLY GORGEOUS, just so beautifully shot that you could almost call it an exercise in images if there wasn't actual substance to the central characters and their weird history. The first time I saw this, I was just picking a random movie to watch after a long ass day. My hubbling joined me, claiming he was about to fall asleep, but would watch a few minutes of whatever weirdness I had found. We ended up watching the whole thing to the end, eyes peeled, exclaiming "Whoa!" in unison at certain obvious parts, unaware of how late it had gotten until long after the credits rolled. I think if you're in a critical mood, it is extremely easy to see this movie for what it isn't, but it's also lame if you can't see the movie for just what it is. For the record, Antichrist is a playfully sadistic experience in the realm of dark ambiguity and conjured horror. See it.