Review: Antichrist

Antichrist (18)

Dir. Lars von Trier

Starring. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg


Antichrist is the latest feature from controversial, Danish filmmaker, Lars Von Trier. Just as in the likes of Dogville, he has again  managed to attract well-known actors to otherwise experimental and shocking films.

The film opens with a prologue; a series of shots filmed to beautiful effect on a 1,000 frame camera then replayed in slow motion.  The scene shows the main characters, ‘He’ (Willem Dafoe) and ‘She’ (Charlotte Gainsbourg), having passionate sex as their young son makes his way from of his crib and through an open window where he falls to his death.  The moment of impact is perfectly timed to correlate with his mother’s moment of orgasm.

Grief is a strange thing, even more so in Von Trier’s world. Following the funeral the couple retreat to a cabin in the woods, called Eden, to aid She in her assimilation of the event.  During the course of their stay, He, a psychoanalyst, tries to root out the nature of her fears.  This is when things take a turn for the weird.  She’s sexual appetite is beyond rational and He’s increasing attempts to unburden her psyche only furthers her decent into her own baser and volatile instincts.

Von Trier has a deserved reputation for controversy and the extreme, and Antichrist doesn’t disappoint; but the duplicitous cries of misogyny and misandry that accompanied the Cannes screening are both short-sighted. At it’s core this film is neither really, but as it takes off the sexual politics become too muddy and iconoclastic to successfully prove otherwise. And thus is its flaw.  When the typical Horror genre conventions kick in von Trier seems too interested in compartmentalising the footage and creating stand alone metaphors of specific scenes –the clitoral-circumcision and the blood-ejaculation come across as too far too contrived (excuse the pun); The shock scenes are shocking, but it always feels like shock-by-numbers.

The inclusion of the chapter title cards,” Grief”,  “Pain: Chaos Reigns”  and “The Three Beggars” – surely designed to move the film along- feel a tad film school and appear to do little other than baffle.  A more measured approach may have served better and a conclusive outcome may have allayed some of the calls of misogyny, but then this is vonTrier. And he don’t do subtle.

“Nature is Satan’s Church” according to She, and this is the crux of Gainsbourg’s decent into madness. Whether Antichrist is actualising the link or merely observing it, is unclear, but the association of female sexuality to nature makes for a complex and intriguing concept. By the end it’s hard to decipher exactly what Von Trier is trying to say, or indeed which side he falls upon: Whether female sexual repression has evolved to create a beast within the panties, or that there is something grotesque already laying dormant in the female on an atavistic level.

In spite of its ideological faults Antichrist still possesses enough worth to warrant discussion. The performances from Dafoe and Gainsbourg are excellent and regardless of the inclusion of such grotesque sequences, Antichrist is an extremely beautiful film with true depth; unfortunately, chaos often reigns and it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

This is one that you must decide upon for yourself.



About craig shaw

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