Director: Lars von Trier
Screenplay By: Lars von Trier
Release Date: May 20, 2009
Run Time: 108 minuets
I came across the film on several “most disturbing films of all time” lists, so when I found it on Netflix I made sure to give it a viewing. After watching I have to say they were right, “Antichrist” is filled with shock value, but there is one thing every one of those list forgot to mention: how boring the rest of the film is. Sure, the film is well acted and beautifully shoot and has one of the best openings I’ve ever seen in any film, but long stretches of this movie is just dull.
Before reading on, be warned: Major Spoilers and Graphic Descriptions and Images Follow.
The film fallows Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as an unnamed couple dealing with the loss of their child. The opening five minuets or so of the film is a slow motion montage of the two having sex, inter cut with scenes of their two year old son waking up, crawling out of bed, climbing on a table, and ultimately falling to his death. The child’s death scenes was beautifully done, as it cut between his fall an his mother reaching orgasm, giving us context for her emotion state in the rest of the film. One way to interpret the film is that she’s not just feeling guilt over her sons death, but feeling that her attaining physical pleasure caused her sons death.
Dafoe, unhappy with the care her doctor was proving, decides that the best thing to help cure Gainsbourg’s grief is head out to a cabin where she’ll be exposed to her fears. Here we get a lot of boring character development leading up to the first two shocking moments. The first moment finds Dafoe alone on a field with a deer looking at him. It’s the kind of moment you’d tell your friends about after coming home from camping trip…until the deer turns around, and we see dead baby deer half rotten and half hanging out the back. In the second scene Dafoe find a fox that’s been disembowel while another fox looks at him and says in a deep, manly voice “chaos reigns”.
Now, if you think these two scenes sound like they are trying too hard to get a rise out of people, I’d agree with you. However, these are much better in action than any description could ever be. The tension builds, the entire feel of the film changes and watching these scenes shows that Lars von Trier knows how to make an effective horror film. Ironically, this lost once we’re asked to engage with the characters again, were building tension should be much easier. Dafoe’s character is a therapist, and part of why he thought this was a good idea was because he wanted to work on Gainsborug’s character. And if you know anything about therapy, you probably know that it’s not a good idea to take a loved one on as a patient. This is part of why the character drama doesn’t work. Defoe’s performance paints him as angry over his wife’s slow healing process, like he blames her for her emotional distress. But nothing is ever done about this. This doesn’t set up a conflict, it doesn’t aid our understanding of the resolution it just….happens. Again, both actors give brilliant performances, but there is so little here that I still found it hard to care.
After more boring character bits and more shock scenes I can’t do justice too we learn something that is actually interesting. Gainsbourg’s character was working on a theses paper about misogyny and evil acts against women when she soon find herself thinking all women are evil. This, finally, creates conflict between our two leads, and she brutalities Dafoe. Two acts of genital mutilation later and we come to our climax, where Dafoe is left with no choice but to kill his wife.
For all my whining that the film is boring, I do have to say that the last 20-30 minuets are pretty solid. However, the real source of what makes this film disturbing is what it was trying to say. I see two possible ways to interpret the film:
1) the film was saying that she was right and women are evil, forcing Defoe to killer her and be free from her evil vagina devil magic
2) It was her internalized misogyny that lead Dafoe to killer her, freeing himself from her toxic understanding of masculinity and femininity.
Either way, the film is Antagonistically Ambiguous as to what it was trying to say, leading to a lot of good arguments from both sides. By making Dafoe the one that survives , there is no hope for an ease answer, but the film forces you to think about the issues.
As much as I love how deep this movie is and how much it gives us the chew on, I still can’t say I recommend it. Like I said, there is a lot of “boring” through out the film. Well acted boring that I feel like I should be able to appreciate, but I just can’t. If you can stand watching three fourths of a bad movie for one forth of an interesting one, then go ahead and give this one a try.