Art or Gore-nography?

     With its title alone, acclaimed director Lars von Trier’s new film “Antichrist” was guaranteed to get some notice… but it was the movie’s explicit juxtaposition of sex and violence that got this dark, adults-only fairy tale of sorts a lot more attention.  Like a lot of independent movies that come along with a big buzz attached, this flick has had a polarizing effect on viewers– audiences and critics labeled it either brilliant filmmaking or pretentious, overrated crap.  With “Antichrist”, von Trier was definitely trying to say something provocative about women, or evil… or evil women.  But it’s not clear just what that provocative statement is… or, for that matter, what place this truly unsettling film will have in the history of cinema.  What IS clear is that many of the images in the last third of this film– two scenes in particular– would have never made it past the realm of heavy underground snuff-porno shit into mainstream cinema if not for “Antichrist”‘s big budget, the filmmaker’s legitimate credentials, and the movie’s two respected actors at his disposal. Those actors are Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who won the Award for “Best Actress” at Cannes for the film.

     “Antichrist” opens with black-and-white, slow-motion footage of Dafoe and Gainsbourg (The characters are not given names.) having sex to opera music.  While they make love, their adorable blond son wanders from his crib and falls out the window into the snow.  The husband, a psychotherapist, encourages his grieving wife to eschew pharmaceuticals for a Gestalt-style therapy, including a trip to their cabin in a forest called Eden to work out her “unspecified fears”.  Bad move.  Ever so slowly, Gainsbourg’s character starts to resent the husband’s somewhat condescending treatment (“I’ve never interested you until now that I’m your patient!” and “You’re indifferent as to whether your child is alive or dead!” she throws at him.) and eventually becomes delusional and violent.  Who, or what, has gotten into her?  It seems to be more than just severe post-grief psychosis.  Is she the movie’s titular antichrist: the embodiment of the Christian devil in the form of a dark-haired, earthily attractive woman? Or is it, as her husband hypothesizes, that she unknowingly starts to embody the persona that a gynophobic society has attributed to females en masse through the centuries?  Disturbing imagery (such as a talking fox who states, “Chaos reigns!”) and tepid allusions to the persecution of women throughout history (with its accompanying maladies, like the burning of witches) lead up to “Antichrist”‘s most notorious scenes of torture and self-mutilation.

     The cinematography of “Antichrist” is absolutely stunning, and the two leads both give bold, intense, vanity-free performances.  Gainsbourg is definitely an enigmatic presence: she appears young in some scenes and middle-aged in others; and similarly, she’s stunning in some scenes and downright menacing in others. As the less established actor than Dafoe, I’m curious to see what she’ll choose next– It’s gonna be hard to top this level of intimacy with the viewer.  However, as for “Antichrist” as a whole: At the risk of admitting that I’m not smart enough to “get” this movie, I just don’t understand what the director, or the movie as a whole, was trying to say. It’s tempting to think of the film as endorsement for psychiatric medication… or maybe a warning against the dangers of heterosexuality. Any movie worth its value in celluloid is supposed to make us think.  But all I could think when I saw this film, come the final third, was “Ewww!”…

     “Antichrist” is now playing.  Visit for more.

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