There are weird movies, there are surreal movies, and then there are movies that are so incredibly f*cked up that you have a hard time believing what it is you just watched. Antichrist, from Danish director Lars von Trier, falls into the last category mentioned. The film features amazing cinematography, a haunting score, brilliant performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and enough symbolism to make an AP English teacher’s head spin. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a very good – let alone enjoyable – film. Some spoilers ahead.
Antichrist is presented as four chapters, not including a prologue and epilogue. During the prologue, which is filmed beautifully in black and white and in super slow-motion, we see a man and a woman in the throes of graphic, passionate sex. I say “graphic,” because right off the bat, von Trier gives us a look at Willem Dafoe’s (or a body double’s) member working its way into Charlotte Gainsbourg (or, uh, another body double). It’s not even yet Chapter One, and we’ve already got male frontal and penetration. Yikes.
Anyway, during the sex between Dafoe and Gainsbourg (who I’ll refer to as Man and Woman from here on out, as these characters are never given names), their young child Nic climbs out of his crib, briefly watches his parents in mid-coitus, and then proceeds to open a window, fall out, and plunge to his death. Woman can be seen climaxing during her son’s final moments, and the events that set Antichrist in motion are complete.
Woman is considerably and understandably broken up over the death of her child, totally paralyzed and overwhelmed with grief. Man, a psychotherapist of some sort is also upset, but not nearly as much as his wife. As such, he takes it upon himself to treat his wife as he would a patient and determine the root of her intolerable anguish. Man determines that at least part of Woman’s fear stems from a cabin – called Eden – deep in the woods and far from civilization, a place where Woman and Nic had spent time alone in the past while Woman worked on her gynocide thesis. Man decides that Woman must confront her fears, and so the two of them set out for Eden. As you probably guessed, this is where the movie starts to get quite bizarre.
Indeed, Woman is horrified of Eden and the surrounding woods – not that I can blame her, the place looks absolutely terrifying. As she works to recover, however, Man starts to see creepy symbols of death everywhere he looks: a talking fox chewing on its own guts, and a fearless deer with its dead offspring literally hanging out if its uterus, for instance. To make things even stranger, Woman seems completely driven by and obsessed with sex, practically raping Man whenever she gets the chance. Is this all symbolism or simply von Trier trying to shock his audience? I can certainly see the symbolism – more on that in a bit – but either way, it doesn’t make for a pleasant viewing experience.
Man eventually stumbles upon Woman’s thesis, which prompts him and her to engage in a discussion about nature. It is here where the accusations of von Trier being a misogynist spawn, as Woman professes that if nature is inherently evil, and woman is the essence of evil, then all woman are, bu their nature, inherently evil. Man dismisses Woman’s theory, but von Trier – through Woman’s subsequent actions – seems to try and support it. Woman eventually attacks Man in an ambush and plots his murder; she also smashes his testicles with a block and cuts of her own clitoris with a pair of scissors. Yeah, you read that last line correctly. The symbolism? If I had to guess, I’d say that Woman – as she believes that women are inherently evil – took a drastic measure to remove that evil, or, more specifically, her womanhood. I suppose the other way of looking at it would be that as the clitoris is a woman’s last link to man (it’s the clitoris that develops into a penis, after all), Woman wanted to totally separate herself from men and embrace her evil nature. Either way, it’s a tough scene to watch.
Again, Dafoe and Gainsbourg give incredible performances; at no point during all the bizarre occurrences did I ever get the impression that either was “acting.” Antichrist is incredibly shot, too, and it’s hard not to admire von Trier’s eye for framing a scene. The movie is downright terrifying at times, too. But if von Trier’s message is indeed that women are evil – and I don’t doubt that it is – then he’s gone way too far just to make that point. As for where the title of the film comes, I have my theory, but I’d rather not spoil too much of the movie. Also, I’m pretty curious to hear yours, if you’ve managed to get through this one.
Antichrist is a unique, well-made film, but it moves from A to D to S to M, when it could have simply gone from A to B. The symbols found throughout are anything but subtle, and are often more of a distraction than a clue as to what’s actually going on. I can’t recommend this movie in good conscience, but I would also wager you’ve never seen anything like it.
2.5 out of 5 stars