Movie Review: Antichrist (2009)
This is the 30th revision of my review for Antichrist and if I thought any more about it, I’d probably revise it twenty more times. Lars von Trier has easily put forth the most deeply symbolic and deeply scarring “Hitchcockian-like” horror film in decades. He has literally slapped the face of convention and quite possibly good taste to deliver this vision of Hell on Earth. Not a Hell with fire and brimstone, mind you, but an inner psychological hell that an everyday person will find difficult to fathom.
And taking us there with frighteningly honest and open emotions are Willem Dafoe as He and Charlotte Gainsbourg as She.
Bookended with a Prologue and Epilogue and broken into four ever darkening chapters — Grief, Pain (Chaos Reigns), Despair (Gynocide) and The Three Beggars — Antichrist chronicles the story of a woman’s spiral into dementia after her son’s death and her headstrong husband’s failure to stop, and in most cases, aid in her fall.
However, in an effort to keep this review manageable, I’m not going to delve into each individual chapter for dissection and introspection as I don’t think it is possible to accurately explain all von Trier’s subtle and not so subtle imagery here (I do see a film school class being devoted to this though). There is so much of it, it is hard at times to make heads or tails of intentions and in many instances I didn’t want to be bothered with trying to make sense of it. I will say, the movie is very well shot (cuts from black and white to color, wide angle to close-ups all used with effect) and the choice and use of music is done superbly. Yet, in making his grand statement, the self professed greatest director on Earth nearly overshadows two powerful performances by his leads which, in my opinion, is very Antichrist-like on his part.
Both actors put themselves out there completely for von Trier for better or for worse. Dafoe, no stranger to controversial roles (recall he played Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ), performs with purpose as a husband determined to do what he thinks is right even though the more he tries to help the worse the situation becomes. And even though I can’t imagine him believing half of the shit he spews to his wife (nonsensical psychobabble sure to piss off many in the profession) he says it with believable conviction. Same can be said for Gainsbourg. She really handles her character well as she runs through every dark, unforgiving emotion possible — so much so that I found myself cringing the further into the abyss she fell.
There are also some extremely graphic scenes of violence and sex in Antichrist that I’m sure tested the bounds of where these actors were willing to go. Scenes in which a penis is crushed with a log and masturbated until a bloody orgasm and a woman’s clitoris is snipped with a pair of scissors would surely raise an eyebrow or two during the reading of the screenplay, as they certainly raised an eyebrow or two while viewing.
So I’m torn as to how I ultimately feel about this film. On the one hand it tries too hard to pierce into the human psyche with its religious overtones, and gratuitous emotional and physical violence. But on the other hand, I’m not entirely sure it could be told without it all — it’s quite the balancing act. What I am convinced of is Lars von Trier wanted people to walk out of the theater unsure of what they just saw. And to this end he has succeeded. To what amount and whether he’s crossed the line of decency and good film making with Antichrist is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.