“That which does not kill us makes us
stronger.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
Everything you’ve heard about Antichrist is a true lie.
That said, you’ve probably been irreparably influenced by all the hype and drama surrounding this film. Critics have bashed Antichrist — calling it “psychobabble“ and “a big fat art-film fart.” Ouch.
Predigested Hollywood pap so permeates today’s films that it has numbed any sense of serious film criticism. If a film won’t yield to a rigid formulaic plot, it must be bad. Remember when films caused real controversy, when movies often withheld their mystery, when cinema made its audience work for its celluloid treasures? Think Last Year at Marienbad, Repulsion, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Silence, Three Women, Red Desert, Persona, Picnic at Hanging Rock, etc.
These films confounded critics and audiences alike only to be enshrined decades later as cinematic masterpieces.
Lars von Trier’s latest film falls in that category. Its credentials are sterling: The Cannes Film Festival, Toronto, and last month the New York Film Festival. So are the credentials of the Danish-born director’s previous filmography, including Dancer in the Dark, Breaking the Waves, and Dogville — though von Trier isn’t every moviegoer’s cup of hemlock.
His unorthodox films and public persona (“I am the greatest.”) often chafe otherwise sane critics and viewers to distraction. Hence reviews of Antichrist invariably skirt around the film’s intent and instead opt for gratuitous details, which is like pretending that Psycho was about the bloody mutilation and murder of a nude Janet Leigh.
This reviewer will not indulge in spoilers or red herrings. Antichrist isn’t Saw VI. It isn’t a porn or snuff film. It isn’t a plot-driven movie. Neither is it about the biblical antichrist in Revelation nor a take on Stephen King’s Misery — although King so admired von Trier’s Kingdom Hospital that he adapted it for network TV.
Antichrist is a meditation on the great divide between male and female, between man and nature. It is a sick mindfuck.
It opens in dreamy black-and-white slo-mo with a child falling to his death as his parents (Dafoe and Gainsbourg) make love.
The mother is wracked with guilt. She is suicidal, and her husband — a therapist — thinks she’d do better without the meds. He even withholds sex — after all, she is now his patient.
We learn that the woman and the child spent the summer in a Pacific Northwest wilderness named Eden, where she was writing a book about pain inflicted on women throughout history — a study she titles Gynocide.
The husband insists they return to the cabin to help in her recovery. Of course, cabins in the woods are great metaphors. They figure prominently in teen slasher films and in literature – from “Little Red Riding Hood” and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Thoreau’s Walden.
Antichrist is, however, the cinematic equivalent of a Grimm fairy tale, an Aesop fable seen through a glass darkly. In Eden, strange talking animals appear. Bodies meld into the ground and writhe as the couple screws. Reynard the Fox posits “Chaos reigns.” Acorns pellet the cabin roof like mortar. Blood-sucking slugs crawl on the couples’ bodies. With a sense of dread and ominous import, the wife declares: “Nature is the devil’s workshop.”
At the film’s center, the wife announces, “Freud is dead! I’m cured!” But is she? Is this dream or nightmare? Garden of Eden or Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Pleasures?
Intrigued? Curious? Take along your Kindle and load it with e-book versions of Nietzsche’s The Antichrist and Camilla Paglia’s Sexual Personae. Better yet, disregard all your notes, as the film’s therapist ultimately learns to do. Give yourself over to the chaos. — Gregg Barrios
Available to cable subscribers via the Independent Film Channel’s video-on-demand service through January 26.