Lars Von Trier, Denmark, 2009, 104 min.
This film really highlighted how important trust is in a filmmaker. Von Trier’s latest tells the story of a married couple who struggle to deal with the loss of their child. The intro that shows how this happened is filmed in balletic black and white slow-mo that harkens back to The Fall. It’s a striking opening that sets the tone for the rest. Four chapters detailing a psychological drama that slowly turns into supernatural horror.
She, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, is overcome by grief and turns to medication to get through the pain. He, played by Willem Dafoe, immerses himself in trying to help his wife in his own misguided way.
Much has been made of how graphic and intense this film is. There is penetration, masturbation, and mutilation. Between the explicit scenes we are treated to ethereal dream/reality sequences that are filmed in super slow-motion, and wonderfully lit to create a very unearthly feel.
There are plots points that appear as the film goes on. Some involving the cabin, some involving the mother’s thesis on witchcraft, and some involving philosophical ideas about the inherent evil of humanity. Everything tantizingly points to backstory and motivations and mythology that may explain what is going on. But it all becomes moot when Von Trier cranks up the horror. Or does it become moot?
That is the main question I have with this film, and that is the main reason that trust is so important in a film-maker. If this was Haneke, Lynch or Jodoroskwi I would feel that there is meaning in there somewhere. That what is happening in the film, although it may not be clear, is clear to the film-maker. That there is a method to the madness that will reveal itself, even if it is only in that twilight state between dream and waking.
I don’t have that trust with Von Trier. He is pretentious and evasive in his interviews. Although he has made some great films, he has also made some that I utterly dispise and I find them all to be very gimmicky. So when I watch Antichrist, and struggle to find meaning in the film, I start to think that maybe there isn’t any. Maybe it was meant to shock and to awe and to make people believe he has something worthwhile to say.
But I’m not entirely convinced that there isn’t any meaning in this film. You will have to watch it and see for yourself. If you do, you will be in for at least one treat. The performances of Defoe and Gainsborough are incredible.
They imbue these characters with an undercurrent of real dread and intensity. They throw themselves fully into the roles and, putting their trust in the director, they fearlessly do whatever the script throws back at them. Let’s just hope that it wasn’t all in vain.