Antichrist (2009) (Not Rated)
This review contains SPOILERS!
Though it's title may imply something demonic or even apocalyptic, "Antichrist" is neither. It comes from controversial director Lars von Trier who unleashes a beast and sets it loose to run across the screen.
The movie begins with a man and a woman, known only as He and She (played courageously by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg). This opening scene is filmed in slow motion black and white and is one of the most stylistically appealing prologues that has been created. The couple are being romantic and in the next room, their child Nic, climbs out a window and falls to his death—thus begins the movie.
"Antichrist" is broken apart with four chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue. If it weren't for the title itself you couldn't have guessed by the beginning that the movie was going to take a nasty turn. It starts out as just a drama—two people trying to deal with the loss of their child. Actually, it's quite far into the movie before glimpses of horror start to come to the screen and the audience gets unsettled—of course, once the film is over von Trier has made it clear that the movie was meant to disturb.
The woman is taking the death of Nic very personally and is swinging back and forth between violent rebellion to her treatments and unadulterated depression which manifests itself in sobbing sessions. This happens during Chapter One: Grief.
The man is a therapist who claims that the doctors that She is seeing have put her on too much medication. He takes it upon himself to treat his wife—though that seems like an impossible task the way She bounces back and forth from extremes.
Grief slowly leads to anxiety (though not a new chapter) which physically takes over the woman's body in the form of rapid breathing, twitching, nausea, distorted hearing, and a fast heartbeat. She slowly gets more and more hysterical and eventually He decides that something must be done.
Fear is a large character in "Antichrist".
He wants to explores the woman's fears, and instruct her to embrace them as nature's way of dealing with situations. The man is very convinced that a person should be able to handle shock without resorting to drugs of any kind. Grief was the first step that led to anxiety...He tells his wife that it will get harder before it's all over—indeed, it does.
In an intimate moment, She confides to her husband that She is afraid of the woods.
This spirals into memories and stories of going to the woods with Nic when She was working on her thesis on gynocide—the murdering of women. Though He is a therapist, we are never told what She is—and gynocide plays a curiously large and altogether unexplained part of the movie.
She expounds upon her fear of the woods by telling the man that She is afraid of Eden the most—Eden being the place where She and Nic vacationed, while she was writing her thesis.
Though He is trying to do good, the man seems to go about his therapy in such strong ways that it made me wonder if He was helping his wife or not. One such example would be taking his wife back to the woods of Eden to help her conquer her fears.
So we enter Chapter Two: Pain (Chaos Reigns) and although I thought I was going to get a taste of the shocks that I knew were coming...it wasn't until later still that those occurred. Lars von Trier keeps you waiting for the gross-out moments, but I assure you, they do happen...and in such unimaginable ways.
Still feeling like a drama "Antichrist" starts to explore surrealist-type dream sequences, all with melting and waving cinematography provided by Anthony Dod Mantle (Danny Boyle collaborator and Oscar winner for "Slumdog Millionaire") that is stunning and hypnotically eerie.
This is the section of the movie where things start to turn sour—He starts imagining creatures who are objects of horror (a deer, a fox, and a crow).
When we enter Chapter Three: Despair...it's clear that events have lined up and there is no turning back now. He and She are locked in with no option of escaping.
Finally we get to the haunting last chapter, Chapter Four: The Three Beggars...from here on out, it's rough waters.
What originally came to mind about the point of "Antichrist" was the allegory of Adam and Eve. It would make sense because the couple is unnamed and they enter into a garden known as Eden. It could be an allusion to the fall of mankind as told in the book of Genesis from the Bible.
However, after seeing the movie, I don't think that that is what "Antichrist" is about.
It's more about the nature of man (good versus evil) and the natural world. In this respect von Trier takes after Terrence Malick, though in a much more vile fashion. Malick never really takes a side in the argument of good versus evil; but von Trier makes a very strong stand that is ultimately depressing.
Man is evil: so says von Trier...actually he says that woman is evil.
The great Roger Ebert hypothesized that the title of "Antichrist" referred to the actions of the characters reflecting an opposition to anything "good", i.e. "holy". I'm not sure that I buy into this argument though it would be easy to accept.
In the end, I'm not sure why "Antichrist" has the title that it does. Could it be that von Trier simply wanted a creepy sounding title? I am inclined to believe this more than anything else.
The role of women (exemplified by She) in the film is curious. Is von Trier mocking feminists? Is he discussing the side effects of maternity? Or even more radical, is he talking about how we need drugs to take care of grief? Certainly if She hadn't stop taking her medication in the beginning, this story may have never occurred.
To be frank, "Antichrist" is incredibly disturbing and I will confess to covering my eyes on several occasions. Dafoe and Gainsbourg are very trusting and fearless to take on these roles—I'm not sure that they knew what they were getting into.
The film itself is frustratingly enigmatic and open for analysis. It's smart and undoubtedly creepy; but it's also fascinating in its own way.
The end gives a puzzling epilogue—but more than that was the overwhelming idea that Lars von Trier hates women and nature.
"Antichrist" is the kind of movie that is successful and impossible to recommend.
Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones