Film review – Antichrist (2009)

She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and He (Willem Dafoe)

The Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville) is a true cinematic experimentalist and agent provocateur with Antichirst being the most comprehensive encapsulation of all his ideas and stylistic approaches to date. Antichrist opens with a stunning black-and-white, slow motion prologue where the film’s leads, known simply as He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), make love in the shower while their unattended child crawls out of his crib, climbs out an open window and falls to his death. Antichrist then unfolds over four chapters where He and She travel to an isolated forest cabin named Eden in order to reconcile their loss. She is consumed with grief, guilt, anxiety and self-loathing, using sex as a masochistic distraction from her pain. He is a therapist so takes it upon himself to heal her by making her confront the source of her deepest fear – the Eden cabin they have gone to where she had previously worked on a thesis about misogynist murder.

Von Trier uses a mixture of visual approaches in Antichrist to maximum effect. To portray the destructive dynamic between He and She von Trier utilises a very raw, handheld-camera filming style. To capture many of the hypnotic outdoor scenes, often filled with images of death in the natural world, von Trier radically uses sound, cinematography and editing to create some of the most beautiful yet nightmarish imagery ever created on screen. The eerie beauty of such scenes contrasts dramatically to the extremely violent brutality that occurs later in the film and very few people will be able to sit through key moments in Antichrist without physically recoiling in horror and disbelief at what they’ve just witnessed.

Von Trier has explored misogyny before and, similarly to David Lynch, he has been accused of being a misogynist as a result. While Antichrist does not contain any single fixed meaning as such, it does depict the misogyny of men who cast women as victims so that they can wield power as authoritative experts. Furthermore, it depicts female self-hatred, which is arguably the most destructive form of misogyny. The self-disgust that She develops towards her own sexuality is represented in Antichrist through its imagery of the natural world as Hell. Functioning as the inverse of the Biblical creation story, Antichrist is the most unique and divisive ‘horror’ film you are ever likely to see.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 343, 2009

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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