Friday, December 30, 2011


I start to think of Christmas movies right after Thanksgiving is over.  I don't always watch them right away, but I make a flexible list of movies that I'd like to watch as I prepare to buy useless trinkets for others.  I had had Antichrist in my Netflix queue for several months now --- mostly because the idea of Willem Dafoe in a Criterion Collection movie that I was oblivious to intrigued me --- and I figured that it might balance the saccharine-sweet movies I knew I would be watching just before the holiday.

Note to self: being right is not the same thing as being happy.

Antichrist begins in black and white, with a close-up of sexual penetration.  So, if you are the sort of person who doesn't like seeing testicles (prosthetic or otherwise) in their movies, this might be a good time to turn the movie off, because it will get worse.  While He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are enjoying themselves, their toddler-aged son, Nic, is wandering about their home.  Ultimately, Nic falls out an open window to his death.
Meanwhile, his parents sing "Tears in Heaven" softly in the shower

That was just the prologue, and the film doesn't get any more cheerful than that.  The film switches to color, and we learn that this is a film with chapters, which doesn't make it seem pretentious at all.  Chapter One is Grief, Two is Chaos Reigns, Three is Despair (Gynocide), and Four is The Three Beggars.  Obviously, the couple is devastated by the loss of their son.  She is hit harder than He is, and she winds up in a hospital numb from grief and medication.  He happens to be a therapist, so he makes the entirely wise decision to take her home and treat her himself.  Not surprisingly, that doesn't work so well.  He adjusts his methods and decides that the best treatment for Her is exposure therapy; in other words, he will discover what makes her afraid and will help her confront it in a safe way.  Why the film veered from grief to fear, I'm not entirely sure, but the two can be connected, so I won't nitpick.  The couple hikes to a remote cabin, called Eden (this film is absolutely not heavy-handed), where they spent time last summer as She tried to write a thesis paper on Gynocide.  Here, He will try to help Her overcome her grief and fear by making her face them.  Of course, that doesn't always lead to peaceful interactions...
The Green Goblin loves "girl talk" time

Antichrist is a bizarre experience.  Those familiar with Lars von Trier's other movies might not be surprised by that fact, but if you put this on with the assumption that you are going to be entertained, you will be grossly disappointed.  This is my first von Trier film, so I won't make any generalizations about his work, but Antichrist is definitely meant to be harrowing and artsy.  If that sounds like your brand of whiskey, you might find something redeeming here.  The cinematography is, for the most part, effective.  I didn't care for the amount of hand-held photography or how frequently the camera went out of focus in the first third of the film, but von Trier definitely succeeded in capturing the most uncomfortable moments in the story on film.  There are tons of camera shots that are filled with Meaning, but much of the symbolism was lost on me, since I was busy being horrified.
The "bullet time" shot seemed unnecessary, though

Von Trier did a great job with the actors; aside from some basic stupidity on His character, Willem Dafoe was very good and Charlotte Gainsbourg managed to grieve convincingly on camera, even as her character went bat-shit crazy.  It is difficult for two characters to carry an entire film, but these two did it well.  They weren't fun to watch, but I have to admit that they gave some quality performances.

I wasn't sure I would be able to take that rational of a look at Antichrist.  My immediate reaction to the film was something along the lines of "Wait...what?  AAAA!  Why would you do that?  AIEEEE!  What is that supposed to --- AAAUGH!  $@@#%#^&!!!  &#$%#$*@%*$!!!"  And I went on speaking in symbols for the rest of the day.
"Chaos Reigns"

I went into this movie expecting it to be kind of weird.  When Dafoe does independent films, they are rarely typical and I was aware of von Trier's reputation.  But  What an uncomfortable experience.  I could handle the weird crow, the deer with the dead fawn sticking out of it, and the fox or weasel or whatever the hell it was that was shredding itself.  Those are all bizarre and unsettling things, but that is within the range of things I will accept on film.  I was not expecting frequent nudity from the two stars, but I can handle that, too, even if the scenes are not intended to be erotic.  On a side note, why do non-porn movies featuring masturbation scenes usually involve crying?  Is that the only way directors can indicate that a scene is not meant to be porn-y?  The genital mutilation pushed Antichrist over the edge for me.  Once that started happening, I checked out.  I managed to finish the movie, but more to prevent any temptation to ever watch the film again (to combat any argument that I "missed" something) than out of any affection for the story or characters.
Not pictured: THE HORROR

I assume that my reaction was something close to what von Trier was going for.  Antichrist is a film steeped in directorial intent, and it was obviously not mangled in post-production to make the film more palatable for the masses.  I get that the characters are handling the grief process absolutely incorrectly; instead of accepting, there is treatment and punishment.  I also understand that these two were probably already a little off before the death of their son; she had come to believe that women are evil and he was a controlling man that apparently ignored his infant child and (probably) his wife.  I am sure that there is a lot more here that I do not understand, because I don't want to have to go back and revisit the film and its symbolism.  As much as I appreciate the acting in the film and the unusual story, I cannot overcome my revulsion to the film.  Some might see Antichrist as a triumph of artistic will and another example of a provocative filmmaker shocking his audience.  I see this as a miserable way to waste 100 minutes, observing self-satisfied direction, on-screen torture, and delusions of artistic grandeur.  I would give this a lower rating, but it is not incompetent.  It is just intentionally painful.
Yes, cuddle with His torso.  How tender.

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