Film Review: Antichrist, Dir. Lars von Trier

Posted: July 31, 2009 by Ferg in Film Reviews

antichrist Admittedly, I wouldn’t normally have seen this film. It’s designed to shock, and the last film to do that also had Christ in the name: Mel Gibson’s, ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ Funny that such shock-films seem to have religious connotations in the name…and yet religion as a concept is peaceful. That’s a different rant though.

The reason I saw it that my Godfather, Anthony Dod Mantle, is the Director of Photography and Cameraman for this film, so I was a little emotionally invested. I had been warned to stay away – by people who didn’t know that von Trier’s work often displays genitalia and violence (not always simultaneously). Morons, essentially.

The background is that von Trier suffered from crippling depression, and this film is his attempt to get back into film-making. You can tell. If you shy away from the gruesome content, this is catharsis at its most extreme, a man looking to expel his demons through projection instead of therapy. Some have criticised this: I congratulate his bravery.

The film centres around the nameless characters of Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (playing the role von Trier wanted Eva Green to fill – Gainsbourg plays it much, much better than Green ever could, in my opinion). The death of their child leads Dafoe, a therapist, to try and coach his wife through the grieving process by making her confront her demons in their isolated cabin, Eden.

The actual storyline is thin, and confusing in places, hence I don’t want to talk about the storyline and give too much away. Some elements are neither explained nor elaborated upon, the theme being one of a grieving process. The juxtaposition of Dafoe’s logical and medicinal approach to grieving with Gainsbourg’s obsession, nay, academic profession, in witch hunts and persecution makes for both an intriguing, unpredictable path to the film (we all assume Dafoe’s logical approach will be followed, as is traditional in film) and for interesting discussion while recovering afterwards.

Speaking of recovery, lets be totally fair and clear. Yes – there are scenes of a gruesome and disturbing nature. But this is Lars von Trier directing, not Oliver Stone – the scenes are representative of the inner torment and crippling grief of the characters, it’s hardly gratuitous. I think this is what has upset people most – that the violence is actually relevant and not like the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent Vega accidentally shoots someone in the head. They are the stuff of nightmares, deeply disturbing but designed to provoke. These are real issues being worked through, making them cartoon-esque versions of hell is neither cathartic nor appropriate to the theme of the film.

Admittedly, comparing manic depression and the deep grief of parents who drive themselves to the edges of sanity is questionable. von Trier has also been accused of a kind of anti-feminism. I can see this, but, if the roles were reversed, and Dafoe’s character acted in the way Gainsbourg’s character did, then we’re talking about the sorts of issues that could really offend on a wider spectrum, not just feminists.

A quick word on the technical aspects: Dafoe and Gainsbourg are absolutely superb. This is a hardcore project to pick (so much so, I sense Eva Green’s agents ordered her not to act in it, as it would signal a step back after being a Bond girl), and their performances are award-worthy. Gainsbourg in particular is terrific in her portrayal of a woman losing her mind through grief and blame, and Dafoe compliments her wonderfully.

Now, I know I’m biased, but the photography, the mise-en-scene, the camerawork, locations, are all superb. In spite of von Trier’s aviophobia, locations in northern Europe make this all the more haunting. The way it’s shot is spectacular, Godfather or not, and deserves recognition.

Not for the squeamish, and definitely lacking in actual story, but if you can stomach it, worth a look, if not for the issues it raises and the torment it displays.

3.5/5

PS. This review is, appropriately, 666 words.

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