“You’re indifferent to whether your child is alive or dead.” – Charlotte Gainsbourg
Grief, Pain and Despair as only the uncompromising Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier can make it. Antichrist (2009, Denmark) is a tough film to watch, one of the dark (and depressing) ones, and yet it makes an indelible impression. In the opening pornographic moments, husband and wife Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are making love while their toddler escapes from the crib, climbs to the windowsill, and falls out several stories to his death. This is all mysteriously, ironically beautiful – pornographic acts can be beautiful if done right with great lighting and camerawork, von Trier is (perhaps) saying. Many minutes after, the film is mucky and bleak visually, as the husbands acts as therapist to his inconsolable wife. In refusing to forgive herself, she goes crazy while on retreat in the woods and maims her husband in fear that he is going to leave her.
With all the austere emotional anguish, you can’t help look forward to the anticipating shocks and violence to happen between spouses. While the film is getting up to that point, the grimness of the weather and – dare I say “supernatural” evil – of their surroundings affect their choices. Dafoe and Gainsbourg are only referred to as He and She throughout, and what we know is that He is a therapist who is using his occupational strategies to extinguish depression from She. But the inevitable condescension is only abrasive in effect. The smarter He is about psychological issues, the less value of a person She feels about herself.
The cabin in the woods as a removed place to recover only encourages harm. There is something about being in the wrong environment, the wrong habitat that can bring upon psychological duress. And She is likely a bi-polar case, and schizophrenic, with dangerous capabilities. She only believes that in order to keep him, She will have sex with He. Except they are betrayed of the reassuring emotional intimacy – demons surround them while they embrace, visual symbolism per se. She is terrified of being rejected, of being abandoned. The abandonment is so terrifying (that’s the correct word here) that She will nail him to the ground. He will crawl away in pain, nonetheless, and she will hunt for him in the woods while he figures a way to fight back.
Von Trier, ever the theatrical showman when it comes to publicity, stated repeatedly that he was in a terrible depression himself when he made the film. He had a two month stint at a mental hospital right before filming began, and on-set repeatedly excused himself from the actors to go isolate himself with his tears. Von Trier is often over-dramatic, but damn if it hasn’t somehow lent him something in talent and vision when it comes to making films – and in this case, a film about grief, pain and despair (as well as marital retribution). His greatest film remains the harrowing romantic tragedy “Breaking the Waves” (1996), but in returning to “Antichrist,” there are times where he evokes the eerie dread and power of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980). Such comparison is high praise.
In the simplest terms, He tries to reason with She, but fails. First he tries to dodge her physical attacks, then he tries to hit back only as a matter of defense. But when He sees that She is going to kill him, there is only one way to end it, and that’s by countering by fatal means. Most couples in the scheme of things don’t really hurt each other in a lifetime, there are spats and feuds, but this is a case where spouses fall into a trap of disillusionment and end up physically hurting each other. I feel a haze of gloom while watching “Antichrist,” I felt anxiety and after a time, drained by it. My better conscience informs me I am better off watching films with positive vibes, but I suppose I still want to watch a film like this occasionally to know that I can still be shaken and upset by something.
SPOILER ALERT AND WARNING: Reactions have been appalled and repulsed with “Antichrist” and disgust with director von Trier in this case involving two scenes of genital mutilation which is so horrifying that even I steered away and shut my eyes, while at the same time admiring the thematic extremes of what the director was going for.
108 Minutes. Unrated. Adults Only. Filmed in Denmark but all in English language.
PSYCHOLOGICAL HORROR / BLOODLUST / LATE NIGHT CHILLS
Film Cousins: “The Shining” (1980); “The War of the Roses” (1989); “Breaking the Waves” (1996, Denmark); “Dancer in the Dark” (2000, Denmark).