Monday, September 14, 2009

Antichrist ***1/2

Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe

"See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand."
Deuteronomy 32:39

About two years ago director Lars von Trier underwent a depression that threatened to end with his career. For better or worse he overcame his ailment and out of this came "Antichrist".
It can be said that the human nature of the film ends within the first ten minutes or so, during a prologue-shot in glorious black and white by Anthony Dod Mantle, accompanied by a Handel aria-where we see a baby fall to his accidental death from a high window while his parents have sex in another room.
Stricken by guilt and pain, his mother (Gainsbourg) falls into severe depression. Her husband (Dafoe) a therapist goes against professional ethics and starts treating her.
They reach a breakthrough when she reveals she is terrified of "Eden", their cabin in the woods, (von Trier isn't one for symbolic subtleties as she makes this revelation after her husband asks her "where would you feel most exposed?").
They go to Eden where strange occurrences begin to alter the way they see the world that surrounds them and the events leading to the death of their son.
Subdivided in four chapters, the before mentioned prologue and an epilogue most of "Antichrist" doesn't take place in a comprehensible realm.
After the prologue it might be feasible to say that one must stop judging the plot based on recognizable parameters as it all turns into a macabre allegory greatly inspired by the Bible and Medieval beliefs.
All of this is basically affirmed by the title; the Antichrist being exactly the complete opposite of Christ who represents pure love.
Therefore, when we see the events He and She go through we understand that they essentially wouldn't be able to exist in a world where there is a Christ. A lot has been mentioned about the violent nature of the movie (there is a scene of genital mutilation not many will be able to stomach) but unlike gore and torture movies-which have become more popular in the last decade-the events in "Antichrist" are never suggested to be probable.
The fear instilled in us by elements in von Trier's film has nothing to do with deranged serial killers because it is all symbolic (a penetrating grindstone is less about pain and more about a woman trying to understand the nature of the male sex).
The director doesn't even expect us to understand the whys of everything in his movie as they sprung from somewhere deep within his conscience, the movie isn't about the characters it's about him; these are all fears embedded within him.
Both characters represent opposing sides in von Trier. She says "I don't know what I'm scared of", He tries his best to heal her with therapeutic methods.
It's the eternal debate of science battling the unexplainable. When she says "you are indifferent to whether your child is alive or dead" she's attributing him properties one would give to God (which makes her consequential behavior all the more heartbreaking).
It's fascinating how the director makes Gainsbourg's character completely terrified of nature, especially now when religions and spiritual currents are becoming more open to the idea of God as nature itself and not some foreign, ghostly, concept.
Since the beginning of time human beings have tried to find explanation to their misery and faith has been a great aid in this search.
It should be ironic that someone like von Trier, who has revealed so many troublesome views of spiritual faith in the past, also tries to find a meaning through this method.
What results moving is his struggle against something he knows he doesn't fully believe in (perhaps out of misunderstanding?) and when he sends He and She back to Eden-like anti Adam and Eve-he's also going with them trying to go back to the very essence of nature.
"Antichrist" has the aesthetics of Medieval tableaux (Mantle was obviously inspired by the works of Hieronymus Bosch, which makes sense considering he was one of the first painters who envisioned hell as something earthly) and sometimes the scenes achieve the kind of morbid beauty we only see in the natural world.
An ethereal deer appears to Dafoe's character only to turn around seconds later and reveal it's in the middle of stillbirth, a fox utters the film's most memorable line and falling acorns resonate with the disturbing announcement of an overpowering storm.
This coexistence of life/death is obviously evident in issues regarding sex. The prologue shows He and She enraptured with bliss as their son-who came from the very thing that is giving them pleasure at the moment-falls and dies.
A passage in Hermann Hesse's brilliant "Narcissus and Goldmund" has one character identify the face of death in the face of a woman reaching sexual climax...
He and She become especially aware of their mortality and feel completely left alone in the world (we never see any other person's face in the movie, even if we do see their bodies).
It is revealed that She was writing a thesis about the nihilism of nature being present within humans as well and while this might not come off as a delicate way to wrap up the plot, it's the director trying not to sound like a total lunatic.
His guilt may not be provoked from events as shattering as the death of a child, but this doesn't make his attempt at an explanation less worthy.
Was von Trier trying to battle his demons by identifying with them? If this was the case then "Antichrist" feels like revenge towards a God who had forsaken him.

1 comment:

Wayne said...

Very thought-provoking post. Another for the list.