Friday, October 21, 2011

Antichrist (von Trier. 2009)

"A crying woman is a scheming woman."


There are some movies out there that were made strictly for the purpose of shaking the audience. I have seen some disgusting films in my time with the 1001, and Antichrist does not compare with the gruesomeness of Salo (1975) or Tetsuo (1989). But there is something about van Trier's visual style that makes this an incredibly difficult movie to watch.

Calling it van Trier's "style" may be giving the writer/director a bit too much credit. Rather than using skillful camerawork or excellent framing - he uses graphic imagery. In the first five minutes of the film the audience sees a toddler fall to his death, Willem Dafoe's penis and scrotum, vaginal penetration and tons of guy-butt. Later in the film the audience is given the striking visual of Dafoe ejaculating blood and Charlotte Gainsbourg using scissors to cut off a piece of her vagina. And von Trier shows everything.

Antichrist is a little gross, yes, but it also has a somewhat compelling story to tell. After losing their son in an accident, a married couple retreats to the woods to try and fix their declining mental conditions. Dafoe plays a character who is simply known as "He". He is a psychologist who believes that he can cure his wife of her traumatic dementia. I feel okay telling my readers that he does not successfully cure his wife. Things spiral out of control and the film never looks back.

The strongest part of the film is the performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. I have seen directors do worse things to their actors, but never with so much conviction and demand. They have noticeably sold out to the belief that von Trier would not set them off in the wrong direction. Their brilliance as an on-screen duo is what makes watching the disgusting sequences worth the nightmares.

Dafoe is great in this movie, but Antichrist is nothing without the bravery of Charlotte Gainsbourg. Her character is sinister, pathetic, sad, frightening and sick. There is some level of personal pain in every move that she makes. But how could there not be? It is hard to not get personal when you are asked to masturbate on screen for a couple of minutes.

The narrative of the film is chopped up into chapters - grief, pain and despair. Each feeling is accompanied by an animal to form some sort of mystical constellation. Grief is represented by a disfigured deer, pain by a talking fox and despair by a persistent raven. Together they are called the three beggars, and something bad will happen when they get together. I understand that this does not make a ton of sense, but somehow von Trier makes it work. Antichrist was not a difficult film to follow.

Here we have a movie that wants to explore the depths of insanity, pain, sexual gratification and evil. Is there truly some kind of evil out there that we do not know about? Antichrist says yes. Some have accused the film of being closer to the side of "torture porn", but I honestly believe that every moment was necessary to tell such a dark and emotionally complex story. It was not the easiest film to watch, but I promise I will never forget it.

Antichrist will not be given a letter grade. I do not feel like my rating system rightfully applies to the type of movie that this is...

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