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Antichrist (Warning: spoilers)

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Lars von Trier, at it again.

It's rare that I find myself truly indifferent to a film -- especially a film that is so clearly and openly divisive. But that's exactly how I feel about Antichrist: completely indecisive. I see both sides, understanding the people who love it, voraciously devouring every lyrical moment, while simultaneously getting why people hate the living crap out of it. A deliberately offensive opus of shock, this film will at some moment find something disagreeable for everybody. But unlike most films that rely upon shock, director Lars von Trier has no intention of making you laugh. Quite the contrary. He wants to make you recoil. He wants to challenge your sense of morality and taste. And he wants to make you feel, one way or another.

Related article.

Perhaps because Mr. von Trier is at once an incurable optimist and an inveterate ironist, the forces of order usually seem to win. At the end of "Breaking the Waves" (1996) giant church bells appear in the heavens to announce the ascension of the film's saintly, self-sacrificing heroine (Emily Watson), an image as silly as it is sublime. The equivalent moment of rhetorical excess in his new film, "Antichrist," is very different and much darker. In a primeval forest a fox takes time out from gnawing on its own exposed entrails to turn to the camera and hiss, "Chaos reigns!"

That scene, along with a few others involving explicit sex and graphic violence (sometimes both at once), earned "Antichrist" whistles and catcalls when it was screened for the press at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where the film won a best actress award for Charlotte Gainsbourg.

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Sorry to sound like Queen Victoria - We are not amused.

von Trier I am afraid is getting weirder and weirder just for the sake of it. I have not seen the movie, nor do I intend to spend my little hard earned cash on Mr. von Trier's infantile delusions.

Have just seen part II of the "Millenium trilogy". When I have sorted out what the title of the movie would be in English - might not be the same in England and the US - I will write about it. Just a sneak preview here - yes, I liked what I saw! :thanks::wink::clapping:

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Yes, please tell us about it, Pamela.

The last von Trier opus I saw was Dogville – didn’t catch the follow up with Bryce Dallas Howard in the Kidman role. I had the usual mixed feelings, but I wasn’t sorry I’d seen it and he does have a way of getting astonishing performances from his female leads. I may not travel out of my way for Antichrist but if it’s convenient I do plan to see it.

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I have just learnt that Lars von Trier has been awarded a prize from the Nordic Council for his film "Antichrist".

As my Jamaican friend in London used to say: "Weird, man, real weird".

Well, one cannot but agree. Now, in all fairness, I havent seen the film, nor do I intend to, - but I have seen short clips of it on TV. Weirdness for the sake of weirdness, I would say and I will definitely not sit through that one. Is it art? Well, von Trier himself said it was great art when he was being interviewed.

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Thanks for posting, Pamela. As mentioned I'm of tow minds about von Trier, but in all honesty I don't think he's being outrageous purely for its own sake.

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I saw Antichrist three times, yes three. The first time I was just so stunned by the end that I wasn't taking that much in, the second to get a more sober take on it and the third because I did find the film deeply troubling, thought provoking and very very beautiful.

On one level there's Von Trier's hatred of modern civilisation's eradicating of everything mystic and spiritual from the world, his distaste for modern psychotherapy and counselling is pretty evident in the Dafoe character and the jibes Von Trier pokes at the need to explain and quantify everything to render deep thought and feeling into a blank, blunt utilitarian theory, I found very funny.

The performances are incredible from both leads, though Gainsbourg is just phenomenal, it's one of those performances were the actor is so credibly and totally the character they're playing whether or not you like Von Trier it's worth seeing for her alone.

The central disturbing theory and thrust of the film, the hatred of women, the historical identifying of women with original sin, evil and the fall of man and the way Von Trier plays this through Gainsbourg - is she truly a vessel for something Satanic/spiritual which works evil through her or is she merely insane, is going to be contentious for anyone watching. The mutilation scenes are harrowing (and ties nicely with the other thread on censorship) the thing is I can't say whether or not it's gratuitous, I don't feel it was, the film is obscene and profane in the best ways, it uniquely challenges and provokes on both a visceral and intellectual level. Torture, hatred and violence towards women in the name of church, state and fear is an integral part of human history and at least Von Trier is confronting this directly and powerfully.

I do feel very strongly that to discuss this film you have to see it; taking articles out of context of having seen the film, of course it's going to appear licentious and gratuitous, I don't believe it is, though friends of mine who've seen it do. But what is most wonderful about Antichrist for me, is that it's a film that dares to provoke, to ask the audience to question and it's a film that really does leave you shaken.

It's a film of a powerful auteur and thinker; it's a modern allegory, frustrating and disturbing and very very beautiful. Do see it, maybe it won't change your views on Von Trier but in order to really make an informed decision it's well worth the money.

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Torture, hatred and violence towards women in the name of church, state and fear is an integral part of human history and at least Von Trier is confronting this directly and powerfully.

There is a certain ambivalence about von Trier's view of misogyny - over and over in his movies women are mistreated in various ways, and one wonders if on some level von Trier gets off on the mistreatment; it repels but also attracts.

Thanks for the detailed review, Simon. I hope the film shows up in my area soon.

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Torture, hatred and violence towards women in the name of church, state and fear is an integral part of human history and at least Von Trier is confronting this directly and powerfully.

There is a certain ambivalence about von Trier's view of misogyny - over and over in his movies women are mistreated in various ways, and one wonders if on some level von Trier gets off on the mistreatment; it repels but also attracts.

I think that's the real problem with Von Trier's work, the ambivalence in his depictions of mysogyny. There's no doubt that the women in his films, the central heroines are morally right, the suffer horrendous trials and tortures but essentially they do so for a greater good, which is invisible to everyone else - and actually that's the interesting thing about Antichrist, I think for the first time the central heroine/anti heroine is ambivalent. The things she does are unforgivable, especially when the "reveal" comes at the end and you find out the extent of her actions.

It's not like mysogyny isn't rife in cinema, go to any muliplex and on several different screens playing six shows a day women will be slashed, tortured, pursued, scantily clad, taken, be sexualised the fact that all this happens within the framework of a Hollywood blockbuster inures us to it. And in Von Triers' films women undergo similar ignomies, however at all moments we're made aware of what we're watching and I think that's why I like him so much he really makes you take accountability.

In the quote above you pasted Dirac it mentioned the heavenly bells at the end of Breaking the Waves to announce Bess's ascension to heaven and for me that was the real killing joke of the film because until that moment you kind of thought Bess was just a bit insane and simple and only in her mind was God talking to her and insisting she torture herself to death, but the bells announce that she wasn't and it was indeed what God wanted of her and that's the most depressing thing that it's the will of God that we suffer. Again that isn't so unnusual it's the Book of Job, and Von Trier is a very biblical director, it's just the way Von Trier can devastate you with a moment like that that makes me love his work so much.

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I think that's the real problem with Von Trier's work, the ambivalence in his depictions of mysogyny. There's no doubt that the women in his films, the central heroines are morally right, the suffer horrendous trials and tortures but essentially they do so for a greater good, which is invisible to everyone else - and actually that's the interesting thing about Antichrist, I think for the first time the central heroine/anti heroine is ambivalent.

That’s true, now that I think about it. But I’d suggest that the Kidman character in Dogville shares some of that ambivalence in the conclusion of that film. There’s a ruthlessness in her that wasn’t there before (you can only think that she learned it from Dogville).

Again that isn't so unnusual it's the Book of Job, and Von Trier is a very biblical director, it's just the way Von Trier can devastate you with a moment like that that makes me love his work so much.

He has a crazy daring that’s unique to him – I don’t know of any other director offhand who would have risked those heavenly bells.

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I'm daring to post here even though I haven't seen Antichrist - nor do I intend to. :)

Simon, what is difficult for me in watching von Trier's work may be what you find so fascinating: the fact that he actually seems to believe that there is a greater good in suffering, and typically - certainly in his later work, from 'Breaking the Waves' and thereafter - it is female suffering. He believes in the mystery and mysticism of the 'ordeal' - however he doesn't seem to have much interest in finding mysticism or mysteries in more varied aspects of human spirituality. As a woman who is not christian, I find that hard to swallow.

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This is being talked about everywhere now, by my friends, on all the blogs, etc., and someone just mentioned something I already knew but I'd forgotten about it in the flurry of analysis that has appeared. That is that Von Trier has not been to America and wants to make art about it from that vantage point. This does not ever interest me, no matter who is doing it. John Updike's novel 'Brazil' was also written without his ever having gone there, it has his usual skiill but I don't buy it. In this way, I am an extremist and maybe you could say Place Fetishist like Joan Didion, who says 'Places are all I get. There's nothing to me without place'. I am just not interested in someone's 'imagined real place'. Let them go there. My own books about Los Angeles were written after many trips there, and the one about New York after living here 40 years. That doesn't mean everyone would think I got it right, but I wouldn't write about places I hadn't been to. DeLillo's writing about New York is not only because of his talent, but because he knows the real place.

There are many bright people who don't have a 'sense of place', especially younger people, and in fact, places are becoming decentered through various processes. I'd be interested to know about this aspect of Von Trier from those who've seen it (and other films), including those who've already commented, to the point of how he perceives America from the vantage point of not having been here. The other themes I have enjoyed reading about (from almost innumerable sources by now) and are important, this is just a thing I have personally--I want something of the Real Place as well as the mythical place. And I don't think you can ever get the Real Place without going to it. I do know that there are other places that I have lived in, though, as Paris for a year, that I don't know how to write about except in brief fragments.

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Yes, Papeetepatrick, I do agree with every word you say.

Problem with von Trier - my very own opinion, this - is that he thinks he is above such mundane things. Well it just isnt like that...

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SPOILERS AHEAD

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I saw Antichrist this weekend. If there was any lingering doubt that von Trier is a raving woman-hating freak with a mommy problem that would make Freud rub his hands with glee, it's pretty much gone. Generally in a von Trier movie there is some doubt as to whether the tortured, martyred woman deserves her fate but there sure isn't any question about it here. Women may be demonic creatures, but they don't know it; this one is and does. Von Trier does make the point that raving misogyny is a well established religious tradition but it's not at all clear that he disagrees with it. As far as I can make out, the moral of the story is Yes, women have been tortured and killed over the centuries solely because they were female but you know, the crazy b****es probably had it coming, like this one. (The couple's woodland retreat is called Eden. Get it?)

A second moral might be that there's a reason why therapists aren't supposed to treat family members. (The husband's not much better than the wife.) Except for the early scenes and a few places where von Trier effectively evokes the fear and dread that the wilderness can set off in disturbed minds, I didn't find the film especially involving or even frightening. The gore isn't too bad until you get to the do-it-yourself clitoridectomy. I've found something of value and interest in all of von Trier's films that I've seen, but there's little to redeem this one apart from the bravery of von Trier's actors and the beauty of some of the images. The terrific, in every sense, cinematography is by Anthony Dod Mantle. Pass the popcorn.

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So, Dirac, I take it you won't be going to the sequel?

Funny thing is I completely see where you're coming from regarding the film and I think my way of enjoying it was to not see her as universal womanhood, but an insane woman and the effects of longterm psychosis, and he as being attracted to her as a lifelong pet project.

Of course the "supernatural" element may throw a spanner in the works, is it in fact a horror, a ghost story, is she a universal representation of woman hood etc I think I enjoyed it because I left those questions open for myself.

I do agree sometimes the symbolism gets a bit teeth cloying "he" "she" "eden" etc I did really enjoy the portrayal of nature as terrifying and anti-God, I have to say I've always had a problem with the great outdoors, and the line "nature is Satan's church" I did identify with very strongly.

But yes, I agree Von Trier isn't the happiest bunny in the rabbit hutch and no mistake.

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Simon, I'll probably be seeing it again. That was pretty much my spontaneous reaction and it could be unfair. However, I'm not sure that I can agree with Gainsbourg's character as representing herself alone – a one-off, as it were. Isn't it significant that the two leads are identified only as He and She, granting both of them a certain symbolic status as Male and Female?

I do agree with the husband viewing the woman as a pet project. There's something profoundly paternalistic in his view of her. But if he is aware that she's unbalanced, would he let her go off for long periods alone with their child? Or has he lived with her so long without understanding how deep her illness lay?

I also agree that it's in essence a horror film – in fact, when Dafoe was in the attic, it occurred to me that the scene was very similar to Shelley Duvall's All-work-and-no-play-makes-Jack-a-dull-boy epiphany in The Shining, only this time the sexes are reversed and it's Gainsbourg with the blunt instruments.

I do agree sometimes the symbolism gets a bit teeth cloying "he" "she" "eden" etc I did really enjoy the portrayal of nature as terrifying and anti-God, I have to say I've always had a problem with the great outdoors, and the line "nature is Satan's church" I did identify with very strongly.

It's a deliberately scary landscape, too - ravaged. This Eden is nature red in tooth and claw, etc. (Some have made fun of the talking fox, but I thought von Trier pulled that one off.)

As for von Trier, for me the issue isn't really, or let us say only, his personal obsessions, but what he makes of them. He has said that he made this film after a bout of depression, which I can well believe. He has always been an obsessional filmmaker, but this is really the first time in which he didn't engage me far beyond the level of "What is going on with this guy?"

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I did really enjoy the portrayal of nature as terrifying and anti-God, I have to say I've always had a problem with the great outdoors, and the line "nature is Satan's church" I did identify with very strongly.

That's interesting to say 'nature is terrifying and anti-God', since there's not only 'indifferent nature', which most modern thinkers talk about a good deal and goes nicely with agnostiicism in its more specifically appealing aspects (say, as in a desert if you're not in a life-or-death situation, once I experienced something like this at Santa Cataline, and other times at the ocean. It's a strangely soothing version of giving up one's attachment to the self or individuality).

What do you mean by 'having a problem with the great outdoors?' do you mean as in agoraphobia? because the great indoors isn't that much better, or rather they both can be good. I like the line 'nature is Satan's church' just hearing it out of context, although it doesn't sound particularly groundbreaking however useful; it made me think 'Satan is nature's church' as having quite as much validity. Then there's 'Mother Nature', if you want to add some other elements within the misogyny talk around this film (which I haven't seen, and am not attracted to do so especially at this point). But of course nature can be 'terrifying', but with 'indifferent nature' there does seem to be a powerful force in it that is more neutral vis-a-vis God, I suppose Von Trier is saying something specific about nature being 'anti-God', but I don't see how anybody could get very far talking about Nature as 'anti-God' or 'pro-God'. If so, what would be 'pro-God' and 'anti-Satan'? Church? In other words, what was Von Trier trying to say specifically in his pronouncements about Nature in particular? because Nature is unquestionably neutral, no matter what anybody says.

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In other words, what was Von Trier trying to say specifically in his pronouncements about Nature in particular? because Nature is unquestionably neutral, no matter what anybody says.

If you see the film it is pretty clear what he means. In the film nature isn’t neutral or a refuge; it’s a place full of violence where death is all around. ‘She’ fears nature, and she’s not wrong.

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Oh yes, now it comes back from some of the discussions I've recently read, including an old documentary with Herzog back in 1982. He even calls all of what we usually call 'nature' as 'obscene', meaning he focusses on the killing that occurs. I never had thought of nature that way because that never stops even when you can keep from seeing any of the carnage--say, it doesn't seem obscene necessarily to kill things to eat (even if it's just plants, much less a steak) in quite the way it seems 'raw' at the butcher or at the slaughterhousses or just in survival of the fittest. I'm going to see if I can find the name of that Herzog piece, I'll put up the clip.

Yes, this is very interesting for those who haven't seen it, Herzog on the Obscenity of the Jungle.

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Oh yes, now it comes back from some of the discussions I've recently read, including an old documentary with Herzog back in 1982. He even calls all of what we usually call 'nature' as 'obscene', meaning he focusses on the killing that occurs. I never had thought of nature that way because that never stops even when you can keep from seeing any of the carnage--say, it doesn't seem obscene necessarily to kill things to eat (even if it's just plants, much less a steak) in quite the way it seems 'raw' at the butcher or at the slaughterhousses or just in survival of the fittest. I'm going to see if I can find the name of that Herzog piece, I'll put up the clip.

Yes, this is very interesting for those who haven't seen it, Herzog on the Obscenity of the Jungle.

Thanks, Patrick. You really should see Antichrist, you might not like it but I'd be interested to hear, read that is, your thoughts. :)

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Just came from seeing the film. Very intense, yes, shocking...perhaps...(not INSAAAAANELY shocking though..or at least not the most I've seen), but very coherent, and straight to the point: a shameless ode on guilt and insanity, feeding one another to the very edge...or even BEYOND the edge.

I liked it. Only two actors, but one powerful statement.

William Defoe was great on it.

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Thanks for reporting your thoughts to BT, cubanmiamiboy. Whatever else you think about him, von Trier has a knack for getting the best out of his actors.

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