Directed by Lars von Trier
Written by Lars von Trier
Plunging headfirst into a realm of depraved evil, leaving behind him any and all polite norms of filmmaking (mainstream, independent or otherwise), Lars von Trier has unleashed his most audacious creation to date, which has been branded everything from “misogynistic” (according the Cannes` Ecumenical Jury, who awarded it a special “Anti-Prize”) to an elaborate joke on von Trier`s part. Make no mistake, however: Antichrist is deadly serious, both in intent and result. To consider it anything less than that – whether you find yourself disgusted or enthralled – is to misread both the film and von Trier`s intentions.
Written and directed during a protracted period of intense depression, and filmed with surprisingly lush digital photography, Antichrist opens with an undeniably memorable opening statement, a gorgeously wrought black-and-white sequence in which a toddler tumbles from a snowy balcony to die on the street below while his oblivious parents (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, credited only as He and She), engage in explicitly depicted lovemaking. The incident triggers a wild outpouring of grief in Gainsbourg, who shuts down completely. Dafoe, a therapist without credentials, decides to take on her “case” himself. While Dafoe composes elaborate stratagems and dream strategies to combat her symptoms, Gainsbourg`s emotional and mental state continues to degrade.
The most obvious precursors to Antichrist are the psychological horror films of the ‘70s, particularly The Shining, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. Those films emphasized internal evil while also creating environments that seemed to exude dread in every respect. Much like Jack Torrance`s haunted retreat, Eden (the appropriately pastoral hideaway Dafoe decides to stow Gainsbourg away in during her “recovery”) feels possessed in every respect – trees and rocks seem to warp and distend in certain shots, animals loom, stalk and even speak (one already-infamous scene features von Trier`s digitally altered voice), and acorns pelt the cabin roof ceaselessly – yet nothing will compare to the physical and psychological degradation that occurs within those cabin walls.
The most divisive aspect of the film is of course its widely reported (and widely spoiled – not here, though) graphic violence, whose malevolence extends far beyond even that of the nastiest genre pictures in a series of scenes near the film’s end. Isolated discussion of the scenes in question does the film a grave disservice, since they act as the exclamatory nadir of its tortured characters` shared nightmare, the apotheosis of their crippling – grief? Satanic possession? Encroaching madness? Antichrist’s greatest achievement is its ambiguity, which permits a wide variety of interpretations – including that of the film as some sort of grand statement of misogyny.
It’s hardly the first time the charge has been leveled at von Trier, yet it’s no truer than when it was hurled at Breaking
– Simon Howell