Thursday, November 05, 2009
Again, I have to apologize to my readers for the delay in posting - the monster bug which struck me down about a month ago has returned, and I'm just doing my best to stay indoors and rest. I did however, brave the impending winter during my one week of health to see Lars von Trier's Antichrist, perhaps the most talked about and least viewed film of the year.
You've probably read by now that Antichrist received pretty much terrible reviews from nearly every film critic on God's Green Earth, and there's good cause for that. You've also probably heard about the fact that film features, in graphic detail, not one but two instances of genital mutilation. And judging from the photo I've shared above, you know that when it comes to von Trier, trix are not for kids.
Antichrist is by no means von Trier's strongest film, and I don't think he intends it to be. In interviews he's spoken about conjuring the film while he was dealing with the death of his mother. They had a contentious relationship - she was the chairwoman of the Danish women's movement, an ardent Feminist, and led a fairly unconventional life. But obviously, as her child, von Trier's got some skeletons in his closet. These are released in Antichrist.
Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem DaFoe play the parents of a child, who, as they are having sex and not paying attention, falls out an open window to his death. Consumed by grief and guilt, DaFoe (who, of course, is a psychotherapist) comes up with the idea that Gainsbourg must confront her greatest fear in order to move past her grief. (I call these characters by the actors' names because von Trier has given them no names besides "he" and "she"). He asks her where she is most scared. She answers, "the woods."
So they decamp to the woods where she spent her last summer with the baby as she worked on her thesis, which (as von Trier tells us from the books left around the cabin) appears to be about genocide. DaFoe forces Gainsbourg into exercises to deal with her fear and grief - and practically all of them backfire. There's one day where she feels better, but all progress is forgotten when DaFoe shares their son's autopsy report with her.
I don't want to go much father in terms of plot summary, but I want to emphasize that this film is not nearly as horrible as the critics have labeled it. Compared to von Trier's other films, it's certainly not at the top of his list, but Antichrist raises relevant questions about the difference in the sexes, and the critical, controversial struggle between emotion and reason. DaFoe approaches Gainsbourg time and time again as if she were a child, someone beneath him. While her reaction is overblown (understatement!) von Trier wants to warn us on just how dangerous women can be. Feminist or Misogynist? I'm tempted to lean towards the former.