(2009) director Lars von Trier
This controversial art/horror film by perennially controversial Danish film-maker Lars von Trier doesn’t make for easy film-viewing. Which is in line with von Trier’s precepts. Meaning that he doesn’t make films that are easy or unchallenging. He wants to engage (or enrage) an audience, provoke, stir, incite. And this film had its anticipated splash when it premiered at Cannes last year, drawing raves and spite, as well as an admonishment for misogyny.
It’s something else.
I was brought to mind of some melding of David Lynch and Takeshi Miike perhaps. But that’s a little discrediting of von Trier. It’s not so derivative that it’s exactly “like” anything really (except perhaps some of his own work). It’s a strangely insular story, harrowing emotionally, but even more harrowing in its brutality. He certainly makes his actors earn their money.
It’s the story of an American couple whose toddler falls to his death while they are in the throes of lovemaking. The man, Willem Dafoe, is a therapist, who tries to work his own brand or therapy on the grieving mother who is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. The process takes them into a cabin in the woods, a site of trauma, where they confront the fears and realities of grief and nature, life and death.
The film is all about psychology, therapy, and quite profoundly Freudian. Gainsbourg has been studying Gynocide, historical misogynies, and somewhere at the root of all meaning of this film, this nature of evil proves out that “Nature IS Evil”. Somehow, deep down, everything in their Eden is evil, particularly the woman’s own nature, especially when it is cut loose.
It’s one of those films with lots of potential readings. I mean, it would be easy on the surface of the narrative, and focusing on some of the film’s most violent and visual moments, to ferret out a thick streak of misogyny. But is that von Trier’s point, that women are evil? Or is there something purely sinister and condescending in Dafoe’s character, his patronizing, emotionless process of “therapy”? And what of all the weird symbolism?
The film is a bit of a mind-fuck, and a painful one at that. While there are striking visuals, moments of beauty, the film is more often a grueling horror show of emotions, eventually unravelling into a much more graphic and brutal, more traditional horror show of bizarre violence.
It’s one of those kinds of films where if you were simply trying to give a “star rating” to, you’d be hard pressed to figure out what it merited. Is it genius? The Criterion Collection, which released the film on DVD, has a pretty stellar track record with selecting the cream of World Cinema. Is it pretentious, potentially offensive, art? I can guarantee you that more than half of the movie-going public wouldn’t begin to know what to do with this film. Did I enjoy it? Jesus, I don’t know.
One thing about writing this film diary, which is not beholden to any real rules of criticism, journalism, or anything, is that I don’t need to necessarily come to any conclusions. I certainly have not yet personally come to any conclusions about Antichrist. I don’t know that I will any time soon.