Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
It would be naive not to expect a film like Antichrist from Lars von Trier. Never has he offered something that sat nicely with a guarded, highbrow crowd. His films have worked in the opposite way, springing up at opportune moments over the years with, if not new and brilliant high concepts, then at least bold and pretentious ones. Famously unfazed by his critics (at Cannes earlier this year, he described himself as “the best director in the world”), von Trier is that rare breed of filmmaker that embraces, rather than fears, so-called “pretentious” art.
It’s impossible to review this without SPOILER ALERTS, I suppose, regarding several notorious scenes—Antichrist is as bold as it gets. First, the film is a savage attack on conventional psychotherapy. An arrogant husband (Willem Dafoe) pulls his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) out of treatment for her crippling depression, believing he could do a more effective job himself, removing her from the city to their isolated cabin deep in a dark forest. Eventually, though, the heady complexities of the case are too much for him. He becomes confused with his own analyses, scribbling over his own careful diagrams. Enter the talking animals.
Drawing on an obviously well-researched medieval mythos involving a trio of symbols denoting grief, pain, and despair, the minds of von Trier’s two characters revert to a less enlightened form of logic. Hallucinations and animal instincts dominate first the wife, and soon the husband finds himself drawn in. We’re reminded of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or, perhaps more appropriately, Werner Herzog’s famous testament during the filming of Fitzcarraldo deep in the Amazon: “The jungle is obscene. Everything about it is sinful.” When modern logic fails to provide an explanation, perhaps a more primal understanding is required.
It’s knowingly hyper-Freudian. In the opening scene, the couple’s child dies in an accident while they make love in the shower. Grieving and finding only confusion in her husband’s heady treatment, the wife’s thoughts turn toward the macabre. Here, the film reaches a second level. Von Trier’s been described as a misogynist before, and again he’s walking a thin line. She revisits her studies in gynocide (it’s the film’s third chapter title) and begins to buy into an archaic theory that women represent the origin of evil. Her perception of herself as a failed mother is conveniently absorbed by the inadequacies of her entire gender. Sigmund Freud pumps his fist in his grave.
It’s no stretch to buy her self-loathing condition. It’s no stretch even to buy the genital mutilation. She’s lashing out against instinctual sexuality and all the problems that accompany it, and not only in a gynocentric way. I don’t need to remind anyone who’s seen the film that she destroys his sexuality as well as her own. What is difficult to swallow is von Trier’s total preoccupation with this misogynist notion, something that’s really only a minor detail in the film.
It’s no stretch to buy von Trier’s nihilism, either, if that’s his potential angle here. The gynophobia feels like a distraction, while a much greater hatred roils beneath the surface, but von Trier doesn’t ever really nail down exactly what it is he’s getting at, besides a kind of unfocused ire. In Antichrist, arrogance, violence, and self-pity are among the couple’s natural states. The ugliness of nature itself, with its rot, tangles, and overgrowth, is beautifully captured by von Trier and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. Meanwhile, the ugliness of humanity remains, well, ugly.
card of the film is spelled with its final “t” in the shape of the Venus
symbol for female, and the closing tableau vivant, depicting naked women
rising from the “obscene” forest in grotesque solidarity, are
unnecessarily strong hints at the possibility that von Trier may
actually buy into something more than just nihilism. The ineffectuality
of modern science, the significance of hallucinations, gender dynamics
between an arrogant husband and a passive wife—these are all rich themes
explored in this film, and von Trier is certainly an intelligent
filmmaker. I just hope, for his sake, that the purported gynophobia is a