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Antichrist (2009)

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Posted 11th August 2009 at 03:18 PM by Philleh

Antichrist (2009)
Artificial Eye

A simple act of self-indulgence has shattering consequences for a middle-class couple. He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsberg) loose their young son, Nic, while they make love. While they are caught up in each other, we witness as their son climbs up onto a window ledge and walks off, falling to his death. She climaxes at the point of impact/her sons demise.

Grief stricken, She is almost on the verge of a breakdown, so He, being a psychiatrist, takes his wife on as a patient and decides to treat her himself. The two establish that She has an unexplainable fear of the outdoors that she needs to conquer, so they decide to retreat to their lodge deep within the woods, known as ‘Eden’; the possible source of all her fear. It’s at this lodge that She, along with Nic, spent the previous summer alone as She was working on a thesis based on Gynocide, specifically Femicide.

Once the couple arrive, they are instantly confronted by the harshness of the wild; He glimpses a female deer, with a protruding still-born calf hanging from its rear. As time goes on, and He witnesses more of natures dark side, he begins to understand his wife’s fear of the outdoors – nihilism, so powerful in the human race, is just as apparent in nature: when He witnesses a fox disembowelling itself in a hedge, the creature can be heard saying ‘chaos reigns’ as it stares at him. From this point on, his wife shows severe signs of mental deterioration and is becoming increasingly more violent towards herself and him. He’ll also come face-to-face with the true nature of his wife in one horrifying night.

Well, what to make of Lars von Trier’s thirteenth movie? Is it art-house horror? Is it all one big joke? Or is von Trier jerking off onto celluloid to relieve himself of some personal issues? Truth be told, it’s all of them. The opening act alone, the ‘prologue’ of the piece is so shockingly film-school pretentious that it’s near impossible to keep a straight face. Filmed in black and white, scored to Hándel’s ‘Lascia ch’io Pianga’ and played-out entirely in slow-motion, it borders on a poor Calvin Klein advert; with added toddler death. It doesn’t come more pretentious than this.

The film then starts proper, and von Trier is in no rush to tell his story. Basking in Gainsberg’s depression and forcing us to deal with her grief just as much as Dafoe has to. It’s this section of the film that will test the audience, and is also von Trier’s release valve. It’s no secret that he was under hardship prior to making this movie, very much like Gainsberg’s character – bedridden with depression. Is von Trier trying to associate his lose (he was contemplating giving up filmmaking) to that of losing a child? Knowing the Danish enfant terrible’s reputation, it wouldn’t seem out of line. For a film broken into chapters, Grief, Pain (Chaos Reigns), Despair (Gynocide) and The Three Beggars, it’s not till the final chapter that von Trier unleashes the horrific elements of the film… and horrific they are!

I’m sure the controversy at this years Cannes film festival has made most viewers aware of the sexualised violence contained within the film, such as I was, but I was still shocked at what I witnessed. The violence is truly horrifying and anyone who isn’t affected by the acts depicted in the film isn’t human… or has never taken a hefty whack in their genitals! Anyone who is familiar with Ki-duk Kim’s infamous ‘The Isle’ will surely want to seek this out, as it’s the only film that can rival that movie’s self-nihilism.

A special mention should also go out to the actors. For such risqué material, they have taken a huge risk and Gainsberg especially has given her soul to this role, and it shows. Lars von Trier is known for pushing his female cast members to the brink and here Gainsberg is willing to be tested, willing to be pushed further and further into an emotional void and pulls through as the star of the show; powering over Dafoe, who in turn is also on form here: von Trier uses Dafoe’s unique appearance at every opportunity, capturing him in slow-motion as often as possible to great effect.

Part ‘Don’t Look Now’, part ‘Audition’ and all very arty this is one film that will infuriate the viewer as much as it will engage them. Those willing to have their patience, and then taste, tested will surely find a lot in this movie to enjoy, that’s the wrong word to use but for all the vileness and bleakness, I truly ‘enjoyed’ what I put myself through. Much like the darkest of the cinematic cesspool, it may be an unpleasant experience, but it’s one I’m glad I took and will certainly take the plunge once again when it surfaces on DVD later in the year.

It’s just topped ‘Breaking the Waves’ as my favourite Lars von Trier movie, a lot will disagree with that and I won’t argue with them, Antichrist is essentially anti-entertainment and for that reason alone it will push away a fair few audience members. It’s also the reason why I admire it, it’s not here to entertain you, it’s here to bludgeon you in the darkest arena of your mind and force you to question what you believe in. Is it misogynistic? Is it misanthropic? Is it actually any good? These are questions only you can answer once you’ve witnessed what von Trier has given back to the cinematic community he once thought of leaving.

If only he would continue down this path and explore these themes further… wishful thinking I know, but an appetizing proposition all the same.
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  1. Old Comment
    bizarre_eye@Cult Labs's Avatar
    Excellent review Philleh.

    I'm torn when it comes to Von Trier's work. I love some of it, but alot of it I don't much care for. I did enjoy Antichrist, but am looking forward to a second viewing on DVD, where I can really absorb it thoroughly - I think it's definitely a film that needs a repeat viewing. Have you seen his TV series Riget? Amazing stuff - probably my favourite Von Trier to date.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 11th August 2009 at 07:11 PM by bizarre_eye@Cult Labs bizarre_eye@Cult Labs is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Philleh's Avatar
    Cheers BE, glad you enjoyed it and thansk for reading!

    I haven't been impressed by von Trier's post-millennium work to be honest. I think his 90's output was far more rewarding, as for the TV-show; I'm still yet to see it! Damn my eyes. I've wanted to see it for some time but still haven;t gotten round to it! I'm told it's the tits though.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 12th August 2009 at 09:24 AM by Philleh Philleh is offline
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