Antichrist does not mean the "opposite" of Christ (defined as grace or goodness in this context), but opposed to. Of course it's a fine line, and "opposed" can have several interpretations, just as this film, a two person play of sorts, can leave you arguing about not only who is "good" and who "opposes good", but the aforementioned central question.
As I mentioned, this is a two person drama (with the exception of animals - one who speaks two prophetic words; and an infant who only appears in the film's prologue). Interestingly, the two characters don't use each other's name during the film (perhaps showing a lack of intimacy in spite of all their on screen lovemaking), so Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are simply "he and she".
Von Triers begins the film with a lovely black and white passage, shot in slow motion, of the pair making love, oblivious to their surroundings and unaware that their toddler is able to maneuver his way past the infant gate and is... well let's just say he's a bit curious about the snow outside their loft apartment. This is all beautifully filmed and could stand alone as a short subject. Unfortunately this sequence is only the setup for the film, which is presented in three acts, and in spite of some wondrous and inventive shots, suffers from some truly atrocious editing in its storytelling.
Essentially we're dealing with emotional trauma here, and the stages of getting through said trauma - grief, pain and despair, each given a "chapter" in the film. For its first half, the film manages to keep you involved and wondering where this is headed. There's an overtone of "evil" with a capital E, that may represent Satan or not (as one scene clearly indicates, when He (a psychiatrist) tries to break She from her "abnormal anxiety" by making a pyramid list of her fears - at one point he puts Satan at the top, but then scratches that out).
What begins as a possible treatise on trauma and grief (which would have been a fine film, as it presents how differently two people can deal with the same tragedy), the film makes a sudden turn, if not into the supernatural, then into the psychotic natural and the surreal - which, at least for a time also works, until the surreal clashes heads with the all too real, leaving the film obvious and far removed from better possibilities.
There was so much potential here, but sadly the motivations became trite and oversimplified, as if Von Triers was afraid to leave anything ambiguous, such as She's investigation into Genocide (i.e. the killing of witches), which leads her (and supposedly the viewer) to ponder upon the supposition that women are inherently evil (the spawn of Satan and all that). She is a representation of all womankind - a portrayal of the emotional part of humanity, where logic cannot find a foothold. It is said in the film that nature is the culprit (and nature being the Devil's playground), and that due to nature, women are not in control of their bodies (I suppose meaning the monthly thing). He is portrayed as logic; cold and distant, seeking finite answers to the infinite questions. Again, this is interesting, and perhaps in better hands could have been profound; but here, sadly, we end up with a brutal sadistic bit of film pretending to be "horror".
My final score is in the middle, due to the wonderful opening sequence, some imaginative imagery, an interesting concept and some powerful, raw acting - as opposed to the last half, with some serious wrong choices, and jarring editing. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
On Netflix a reviewer wrote, "Is it possible to rate a film WTF?" Yes, it is.
Lars Von Trier is a trying filmmaker. One cannot doubt that his films are beautifully shot, and I don't know how he makes colors so vibrant and alive in such ghastly circumstances, but the effect is arresting. But his stories pile woe upon woe in a stepped pattern that quickly becomes predictable, and the shock of each atrocity wears off over the course of his oeuvre. Antichrist continues this tradition, and I found myself horrified and bored at the same time if that's possible.
The story concerns a woman's unending grief, but when the supernatural elements invade, the drama shifts from a psychosexual dilemma to something external but which is never named or fully explored. I'm sure that I was supposed to gain a kind of catharsis in the film's final images, but we were never given enough clues to understand how the mystery was resolved.
Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg were committed to their roles, and that's about all I can say for them.
Overall, Antichrist is for Von Trier fans only, but even they might find the director's tricks wearing.
After the accidental death of their child, a therapist (Willem Dafoe) and his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) - listed in the credits only as "He" and "She" - retreat to a cabin in the perhaps haunted woods to recover. Eventually, they turn savagely on each other and bloody mayhem ensues.
There are many similarities with this and Von Trier's most accessible film to date "Melancholia". Not only in the exploration of mental illness in his leading female character but also in his recurrent theme of despair and chaos and his strikingly stylish, slow-motion prologue and use of music. Has Von Trier settled on a particular style now? If so, it's a style that will serve him well. During the making of this, the director was himself suffering from depression (which was further explored in "Melancholia") and it shows. You can see his understanding of the isolation of mental health not to mention the false hope in any saviour from it. This is brilliantly portrayed by two exceptionally brave performances from his actors. Gainsbourg in particular delivers one of the most daring pieces of acting since Harvey Keitel in "Bad Lieutenant". The subject matter may be one that would be overlooked come awards season but she was certainly deserving of recognition. It's a stunningly shot film with atmosphere and creepiness in abundance and disturbing images of the cruelty of nature. In some ways, Von Trier's realisation reminded me of dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch and his fantastical paintings. In particular, Bosch's most famous "The Garden of Earthly Delights" which depicts Adam and Eve in a wondrous garden before descending to Hell where punishments are handed out for sinners. The fact that Von Trier has his characters' unravelling in a remote place called 'Eden' further fuels this.
Be warned, there are brutal and unbearable violent scenes, that I'm surprised the censors overlooked. However, it's still an extraordinary, surreal and highly provocative journey. Just another day at the office for Lars Von Trier then...
lars von trier has a really convulted way of story-telling in his cinematic style, but my purpose here is to elucidate. therefore, i just depict the movie's story-time (the actual event in linear order..narrative time is how the story is told, the way it is presented in the movie): a woman, whose husband is psychoanalyst, has her child fall from the window and killed during lovemaking with her husband because she doesn't stop from sex to keep the infant from moving toward the window. after the tragedy, her sanity is teetering on the borderline of hysteria and she internalizes this sense of guilt with the content of the academic dissertation she was working on while the child was still alive. the dissertation is about gendercide (mass killings on women in 16th century) which is inclined to believe that the essence of woman is evil and woman-kind should be eradicated for the sake of human goodness. hence, this woman inflicted with hysteria deteriorates into raging paranoia while her psychoanalyst husband is striving to treat her himself by bringing her into the woods which is the fountainhead of her fear. her conditions decline according to the chronic stages of gender-cide mythology: grief, pain and despair. at last, she even performs the sadomasochistic gimmicks she acquires from the researches she's made upon her husband and herself. her madness eventually becomes so repulsively compelling that her psychoanalyst husband has to slaughter her himself and torch her corpse in flaming fire just to rinse off these nightmarish memories within the forest, a.k.a. nature as the church of satan.
SPOILER: she even uses a scissor to chop off her clitoris.
the movie is a mockery toward psychoanalysis, which has been criticized as phallocentric, a discourse composed by man, a methodology to evaluate the patients through a male-centered perspective. one notable notion about perverse killings in the realm of psychoanalysis is, that man inflicts the violence in the eye of THE OTHER (any form of god, an abstract form omnipotent gazer) upon others while woman inflicts violence upon herself in the eye of the other (any bystander who witnesses her cruety against herself). "antichrist" is a parody toward this gendering notion within psychoanalysis, which is deemed by some as misogynism. the other, in the case of "antichrist", is the husband. in one scene, she requests him to hit her during sex, then the couple wind up fornicating in the wild while lots of ghastly hands and tree branches occur simultaneously to fabricate an eerie image. she needs him to be there to witness her violence against herself, and his eventual eradication of the mad wife is committed under the gaze of THE OTHER. from this aspect, it is my belief that lars von trier must be amateurish enthusiast for psychoanalysis, and he illustrates those psychoanalytic ideas through cinematic visuals in the deranged sequence of the mind of schizophreniac patients.
within the binary opppositions of genders, in other words, the essentialist perception of genders, woman represents nature while man stands for culture. in the case of film noir, femme fatale occupies the position of culture while the good woman who redeems the noir anti-hero posits in the spot of nurturing nature. just observe some scenes in classic noir, femme fatale always appears in the urban surroundings like night-clubs and public lounges. that is to say, woman shouldn't infiltrate into the realm of man, which is culture, and woman with culture is dangerously phallic as she might do harm unto the man as well as herself. but in the case of "antichrist", the evil of femininity is located within the nature while the man as the psychoanalyst, surely represents the culture. it erases the dichotomic demarcations within the stereotypes of good and bad femininities by generalizing that all woman-kind is derived from nature and nature is evil (church of satan). furthermore, sexually unbridled woman is hazardous just as nature without human appropriation is perilous, such as typhoon, earthquake, tsunami..etc. during this film, the woman conducts herself like a sex maniac who utilizes sex as alleviator at the paramount of her delirium. that symbolizes the foresight of an upcoming disaster once nature is running amok without the endeavorments of human moderations. in their last sex, she even attempts to cripple him, and the blood semen ejaculated from the wounded man in coma is the expellant gush of death. ejaculated semen during sex, by its archaic meaning, means life because each sex bears the potentiality of producing a life. onanism creates no life, and the woman maneuvers to induce from the man in the action of hand-sex is no essence of life. on the contrary, it's the essence of death.
does anyone who's seen it understand the metaphor of the last scene in the movie? in my comprehesion, the man plucks a plant filled with buds (i don't know how to describe the term correctly), and he gazes it in wonderments. then a group of young girl emerge from the hillside to leave him in perplexion. the plant of buds is the metaphor of seed-bearing matrix. after he finally murders his wife, in the moment of his foremost disgust with womankind, females just appear all around him to leave him dumbfound within the maze of nature. that means, you simply could not escape this ubiquitious existence of womankind, if you consider the female as evil, the essence of evil shall flow all around you to put you into perennial state of incessant nightmares.
(ps) i laughed when i read from pamel d, whose review says stuff like who wants to see nudity of willaim dafoe and charlotte gainsbourg, and she demeans roger ebert for praising the bravery in sex scenes of anitchrist while underrating isabella rosellini in blue velvet. my feelings after finally seeing antichrist is: i think both blue velvet and antichrist are good in different ways, and david lynch is a comparatively more glamorous by style and he favors to use really good-looking women as his femme fatales and his sex scenes are always disturbingly enjoyable. i do agree, ebert underrates blue velvet. but i must admit gainsbourge's sacrifice is bigger because who would really think this woman is sexy after watching this?! (cutting off clitoris, give me a break, i wanna puke) she's somehow a much much less glamorous woman by comparison with rosellini, and she destorys the last possible bit of feminine charm by uglifying herself even more! i assume, most people. after watching blue velvet, would consider isabella rosellini very sensual and alluring, goddess of sex to some, but no one would really think like that after antichrist (if you do, you might have a problem. lol.)
in my opinion, i consider the sex in antichrist is meant to be disgusting, and that's why trier casts william dafoe and charlotte gainsbourge to de-eroticize sex!!! it's meant to be un-sexy, repulsive, appalling and completely a turn-off! if the sex looks tasty, you might not wanna think of any of those metaphoric conceptualizations within this picture after being so mesmerized by the sex.
Truth is, I don't think his films make any sense. Since I'm reviewing Antichrist, let's talk about it. The film's detractors have often criticized it as misogynist. I don't think the film is misogynist. It's more about human nature as inherently evil and destructive. Essentially, if you put two people in a room, sooner or later they will kill each other.
Antichrist is the Genesis creation story retold as a horror film. Von Trier doesn't name the couple (the only two characters in the film), so they are essentially Any-Man and Any-Woman. The cabin they retreat to is called Eden, and yes, the setting is ironically desolate, decayed, and debilitating.
But the mistake Von Trier makes is that both his characters are essentially nothing but evil. He is a selfish, sexist pig who thinks He knows what's best for His wife, while She is "Hate Incarnate". She watches her son fall out of a window to his death, but does nothing as she's in the middle of having sex. She believes women are inherently evil because human nature is evil and nature controls the female body. Eventually She snaps at Him, and the last twenty minutes are a gruesome bloodbath that does not invoke sympathy or disgust - maybe disgust if you can't stand gore. But why do we care about these people? They're not reflective of real people. They represent Ideals. So, right away, Von Trier's "message" is nul and void. Evil exists, but what's disturbing about the original Creation story is how Evil triumphs over Good. When Good is completely absent, who cares what happens? Maybe my ideas conflict with Von Trier and I can't put them aside to understand him. But that's okay, cuz I don't think he has any idea what he's talking about. YouTube how he just got banned from Cannes for calling himself a Nazi and you might just agree with me.
The Prologue to Antichrist is a gorgeous, devastating silent short film but this art-house take on torture porn, as a whole, is by no means an enjoyable experience. Willem Dafoe is solid, but Charlotte Gainsbourg is truly terrifying in one of the finest displays of talent in recent years. Easily the most disturbing film I've ever watched.