Coming from Danish director Lars Von Trier (‘Dancer in the Dark’ (2000), ‘Dogville’ (2003)), this controversial film promises to be anything but an easy ride. Hailed in Denmark a masterpiece overnight, ‘Antichrist’ became a bloody ‘conundrum’ abroad. The film follows a guilt-driven/grief-ridden couple (He & She) as they retreat into a cabin in the woods, trying hard to combat both their grief in relation to their lost child and their inexplicable fears. As they face each other and their surrounding environment deep in the woods, they soon realise that their retreat is far from being therapeutic.
As with Lars Von Trier’s ‘Melancholia’ (2011), this film is concerned with contrasts. It deals with the variety of issues: pleasure/pain, death/birth/life, innocence/guilt, religion/immorality/lust, happiness/sorrow, and so on. The film’s gloomy setting is trying to elicit the feelings of wonder and apprehension. The theme of the film is controversial in itself. There is, for example, grief and mental illness battle in the movie, a ‘personal’ topic, which also makes the film feel very ‘personal’. As the couple in the film grieve for their lost child and feel certain responsibility for its death, the audience is slowly drawn into the inexplicable atmosphere of unease and apprehension. However, there is also a strong sense of “medical” curiosity throughout the movie. The main character (She) is suffering from panic attacks, anxiety and phobia, but also, most likely, depression, PTSD and paranoia. In the movie, she becomes the subject which is curious to observe, not only for her husband, who is trying to examine and ‘cure’ her, but also for the audience.
Undoubtedly, this film could be described as ‘shocking’ as it tries to elicit a negative reaction from its audience. It may succeed in doing so as it shows graphic and bold sexual and violent activities towards the very end. However, it also seems that Lars Von Trier is playing with his audience throughout the movie, trying to determine how much he can show, and what he must hold back. In that way, the film becomes not so much ‘shocking’ as ‘interestingly provocative’ to watch. In the film, the director bears not only human emotion, but also the very essence of human nature, making his audience feel very uncomfortable. This way the film targets the ‘human’ in the audience, the Freudian connection between sex and death, and the death drive. As Dennis Schwartz said, ‘Antichrist’ is ‘a grim film that wants you to feel the pain its characters do.’ As the film’s main characters undergo their slow ‘transformation’ and experience different things, so does the audience, who is expected to experience high levels of ecstasy, ‘feel’ the unbelievable pain and think deeply about the nature’s darkest sides.
The film certainly tries to appear more ‘philosophical’ that it actually is. It may partly succeed in doing so, but only at the point when the audience starts making the necessary mental connections and associations, which means only at the very end of the movie. The central idea of the film seems to be that nature is the Devil’s realm; as nature is evil and it controls women, they must be evil too. He and She in the film may represent Adam and Eve who return to the Beginning of all the Beginnings, the Eden Garden, with ‘Three Beggars’ constellation being the antipode to the Three Saints of the holy Bible. When Adam and Eve are in the Eden, it is Eve (She) who becomes tempted by the snake. The same thing happens in the movie: while He remains rational (at least to a certain point in the film), She is portrayed as the one who goes insane, lustful and irrationally violent. However, despite being so grotesque, ‘Antichrist’ is also a beautiful piece of cinematography. The film’s fearless camera shots all dwell on the right places, and the black-and-white prologue, together with some nice opera music, make the film look like a beautiful piece of art.
In this film Charlotte Gainsbourg gives a brave and terrific performance as She, as does Willem Dafoe, as her husband, the therapist (He). It is beyond imaginable to think what kind of mental endurance these two actors had to pull through in their respective complicated roles.
However, it is also evident upon watching the film that its symbolic message is only half-delivered. We get to know something about the main characters’ obsessions, eccentricities and hidden thoughts, but how it all fits into the bigger picture of the film’s premise is less clear. There are hardly any developments or explanations given as to such terms as ‘Nature’s Devil’, ‘The Three Beggars’ and the phrase ‘Nature is the Satan’s Church’. The title of the film is also confusing as it wrongly suggests a biblical reference (as opposed to a reference to paganism, which should have been more to the point here). The wholly unrealistic pain-resistant nature of the main characters is also a very surprising discovery in the movie, though probably not as surprising as the talking fox. This film does progress from ‘bad’ to ‘worse’, and if one wants to remain calm and relatively undisturbed after watching it, it is advisable to stop watching it just after seventy minutes, so one can leave convinced that ‘Antichrist’ is just one of those beautiful and confusing masterpieces.
In terms of the level of disturbing content shown, this film probably levels with such films as ‘Funny Games US’ (2007) and ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ (2010). In terms of depth, philosophical undertones and the ‘shock’ factor’, the film may equal ‘Irreversible’ (2002). Although many people seem to compare ‘Antichrist’ to ‘Paranormal Activity’ (2007), there are, in fact, few similarities, if any. Rotten Tomatoes rate ‘Antichrist‘ at forty eight percent, which means critics themselves do not know whether they are supposed to love or hate it.
‘Antichrist’ deals with every imaginable horror scenario, but it is not openly and offensively misogynistic. The film is not for everyone, but this does not mean that it is not entertaining or interesting. Although inexplicable and nightmarish, the film is also original, thought-provoking, methodical, stylish and beautifully shot. 7/10