It is about time I get back into the swing of blogging.
So I watched Antichrist Sunday night. Here is what I thought of it.
(thar be spoilers of pretty disturbing shit ahead, be warned)
(thar be spoilers of pretty disturbing shit ahead, be warned)
Chapter 1: Introduction ("Curiosity")
First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I did not know a whole lot about this film before watching it. If I had not been shown this clip, I may not have watched it at all.
I had to see the movie where a talking fox and Willem Dafoe shared a scene. Aside from the first sentence on its Wiki page, I also knew that it had a castration scene, and I vaguely recalled Brad Jones not liking it. While I knew of Lars von Trier's name, I had no experience with his filmography, and I never remembered reading anything about his style or reputation.
Onto the film, it opens with a "prologue" shot entirely in black-and-white slow-motion and soundtracked only by a very beautiful aria. I liked this segment. It foremost let me know that I was in for one of them artsy-type movies. Additionally, I found the directing and cinematography to be good and compelling enough to keep my interest during what would otherwise be a pretty simple and silly scene. In short, Willem Dafoe and his wife Charlotte Gainsbourg have an intense fucking session throughout their home (the directing leaves nothing to the imagination) while their toddler, Nick, climbs out of his crib, climbs up a table, and falls out a window. The important point is that because the parents are distracted by sex, their child dies, and stretching this scene to six minutes is indulgent, but, again, I think it works. It is beautifully shot (it takes gratuitous advantage of slow-mo, but I liked it here), beautifully scored, and it sets the surreal and patient pace of the entire story.
Chapter 2: Summary ("Amusement")
I just wrote a brief, terrible, tongue-in-cheek summary of the film. I sort of intended it as an alternative to watching the movie, since I don't think I can "recommend" it in good faith. I certainly don't regret watching it, but it definitely ain't for everyone. Not good for a date, if you catch my drift. And I realize Wikipedia negates the need for the following several paragraphs, but I need to get in the habit of writing again.
Chapter 1 is titled "Grief." Gainsbourg takes her child's death pretty hard. She is hospitalized, but Dafoe decides she is better in his own manly psychotherapist hands. He begins treating her as a patient, which fucks with their marriage, but soon enough they fuck and fuck up the patient-therapist relationship too. When she begins having anxiety attacks, Dafoe does his analysis thing and traces her fear to the woods, specifically Eden, a cabin where she and Nick had spent the previous summer. Dafoe's brilliant idea is to take his mentally unstable wife to the place she fears the most, and so they head up to the remote cabin. On the way there, he encounters a deer with a stillborn fetus hanging out of it.
Chapter 2 is titled "Pain (Chaos Reigns)." They make it to the cabin. Dafoe continues to treat her, and she continues to get worse. Until she is suddenly all better, but then Dafoe doesn't believe her, and she goes back to being crazy again. Also, their roof is constantly bombarded by falling acorns at night, and if I had to sleep through that, I'd probably go crazy too. At the end, he finds a fox eating its own guts. The fox says, "chaos reigns," and Dafoe continues to go about his business.
Chapter 3 is titled "Despair (Gynocide)." Dafoe finds his Gainsbourg's notes from the thesis project she abandoned last summer. It's subject was the killing of women, but it turns out she went crazy and started believing the women were actually evil and deserving of death. He tries to convince her otherwise; she doesn't exactly agree. They fuck by a tree. Dafoe also finds out Gainsbourg consistently put the wrong shoes on Nick's feet last summer, and it turns out child abuse kind of concerns him. He deduces what she is actually most afraid of is herself, and she then proceeds to beat him unconscious, castrate him with a wooden block, make him ejaculate blood, drill a hole through his leg, and bold a heavy grinding stone to his leg through that hole. He wakes up, tries to escape, and hides from her in a foxhole. He finds a crow buried alive, which squawks and alerts Gainsbourg to Dafoe's presence, no matter how hard Dafoe tries to beat it to death.
Chapter 4 is titled "The Three Beggars." So it was revealed in Gainsbourg's thesis notes that The Three Beggars are a group of nonexistent constellations consisting of a deer, a fox and a crow. Sound famliar? Gainsbourg momentarily loses the crazy and helps Dafoe back to the cabin. But then she gets the crazy back and tells him someone must die with the three beggars arrive. She tries to masturbate next to him, but sees herself seeing Nick fall out the window. That failing, she decides instead to cut her clitoris off with a pair of rusty scissors. That takes a bit out of her, so she sleeps, and the animals come visit. Dafoe hears the crow under the floorboards, which he breaks through to find a wrench. He takes the bolt off his leg and removes the stone, but not before Gainsbourg stabs him with the scissors. He strangles her to death and burns her body.
In the "Epilogue," we see our hero walking through the woods. Suddenly, hundreds of women start walking towards him.
Chapter 3: Review ("Ambivalence")
So, my thoughts. This is a really difficult movie for me. Watching it was not too painful; I definitely squirmed in the appropriate places, but I'm desensitized enough that I didn't have to pause or fast-forward through anything. Collecting my thoughts, however, is quite the exercise.
I think there are a lot of really easy things to target and easy things to say about this film. It's easy to call this pretentious, because it definitely is, but I don't regard pretension as inherently terrible. But it it's easy to call this artsy for the sake of it. It's easy to call this needlessly graphic, as I almost did above. It's easy to call this misogynistic. But I am wary of easy routes.
There are things I definitely liked. As with the prologue, I found the directing and cinematography engaging throughout. This is especially true when we get to Eden and are treated with truly gorgeous forest shots. There are a lot of memorable images in this film, and I mean outside of the ones you'd find in an exploitation film. Lars has balls too, which I admire in any person, in any profession. Again, completely ignoring the graphic scenes, to fill his movie with that much slow-motion, to have a talking fox--that takes cojones. Or maybe it doesn't when you're working in the realm of the arthouse film. But I still think that's risky, and it's risks like that which produce the big payoff.
I like how Eden (and Nature by extension) is portrayed as such a sinister character. In an age when we want everything to be "green" and "organic," it is easy to forget that in every patch of grass there are life-and-death struggles. Eden is filled with overgrowth, dead trees, gnarled roots, disconcerting noises, and creepy animals. Whether this was natural or done in post-production, the lighting is typically muted, even during the day. The cabin, the isolated pillar of humanity, looks ramshackle and ready to be swallowed by the forest at any time.
And I think the points I have mentioned so far highlight that Antichrist excelled at was an atmosphere of dread, and that was what I enjoyed the most. Taken as a story about a couple losing their child and how it destroys both of them, I believe it could have been a very effective film.
That's not what Antichrist is, however. It isn't about the story, and it certainly isn't about the characters. Given the surreality, it is hard to take this as anything but allegorical. I mean, its attempts at symbolism aren't exactly subtle: it's broken into titled chapters, neither character has a name (officially referred to as "He" and "She"), they go to as place called Eden, encounter strange and mystical animals, etc. Taken as a kind of fable, it seems to be saying that human nature, and nature by extension, is evil. Maybe that nature is the "antichrist." I don't agree with that in the slightest, but that's what I got from it.
Do the graphic scenes help to deliver this message? Yes, I would say so. By not holding anything back visually, von Trier is given an avenue through which to explore fully the extent of cruelty these characters inflict on each other and themselves. Are graphic scenes necessary? No, there are other ways to convey that message that don't involve closeups on genital mutilation. But I don't think you can call von Trier fundamentally wrong for choosing to film the way he did. His method was one of many.
I also don't find the film misogynist. Or, rather, I find it equal parts misogynist and misandrist, that is, it is misanthropist in the sense that it paints a really negative picture of all humanity, men and women included. Gainsbourg's evil is a lot more easily identified, since it involves extremely graphic violence. Dafoe's evil is subtler, but no less harmful. While Gainsbourg tortures Dafoe physically, it is in response to Dafoe's psychological torture of her. Even if he justifies it by believing he is helping her, he divorces himself from the supportive love she actually needs and turns into her therapist, who keeps thrusting her into situations she is deathly afraid of. He does this calmly, coolly, and without remorse. It is no wonder she snaps!
Chapter 4: Conclusion ("Frustration")
After all of these words, I still cannot articulate whether I "liked" or "disliked" this movie. But, then again, why should I have to restrict my feelings to that binary? This is a film I liked and disliked in almost equal measures, for equal but different reasons, and it is because it defies that easy thumbs up or down, that easy click of a button, that my thoughts keep returning to it in frustration. And that, I call a successful piece of art.