Notes on ‘AntiChrist’

October 20th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

(this review originally posted on – reposted here to give a base to my blog and for, let’s say, posterity)

With Lars van Trier’s latest film AntiChrist he doesn’t just blur the line between pornography and art, he ejaculates blood on it.  An immediate review of this film would be impetuous, so I waited weeks.  I am finally able to organize my thoughts. It is clear that this film makes you question the distinction between pornography and art, and even forces us to determine what is the measure of a “good film.” What I’ve concluded is that Antichrist is a marvel of actor performance, stunning in its cinematography and an achievement in fearless direction seldom paralleled.

A good film has a good story; this is the story of He and She, the nameless victims of guilt and despair. After the death of their son He attempts to psychoanalyze She; He works through her feelings of guilt while suppressing her grief.  It’s an unhealthy attempt to get over the tragic death of a loved one. If nothing else this film serves as a cautionary tale for those who are thinking of marrying a therapist.

He takes She into the woods, to a place ironically called Eden, in order to focus on her therapy and confront her underlying fears. As we dig deeper into her tormenting guilt She becomes unhinged and unpredictable, as does the film itself. Her guilt reaches deeper than the death of her son.  She was in the middle of dissertation about the inherent evil nature of women throughout history (which is why Eden is the ironic name of the woods being the Biblical location where a woman caused the fall of man) and feels guilt over being a woman herself. He tries desperately to understand her grief, tries futilely to help her and in doing so seals his own demise.  It’s a good story.

A good film stirs you emotionally; for the final 15 or 20 minutes of this film I couldn’t look away despite my better judgment and my friend Collin was gnawing on the hood of his sweatshirt out of angst and anticipation.  The performances are so raw and powerful they should have both won Oscars (but neither were even recognized with nomination, jackass Academy).  Charlotte Gainsbourg did win best actress at Cannes. Through the spectacular visuals created by Dod Mantle and von Trier the audience is forced to feel the same variance of emotion as a couple forced to grieve their dead son. This is one of those rare moments when a filmmaker created emotions that transcend the screen and haunt those watching. So, yes, this film will certainly stir you emotionally, whether you want to be or not.

A good film sticks with you long after you leave the theater; it’s been months and some of these images are so exciting, horrifying, beautiful, hideous, poetic and foul they may forever be scorched in my memory.  It is absolutely pretentious and at the same time this is a film that would stir the emotions and stick with even the most novice film-goer.

Now, what is pornographic and what is art? Perhaps it is in the intention of the filmmakers (or the pornographer, however you see it).  If the sole intention of the piece is to arouse strong sexual feeling, just make you horny basically, then perhaps that is porn. But if the intention were greater, if the aim is higher, then would it be art? Possibly. If Vincent Gallo films Chloe giving him a blowjob in Brown Bunny, is that porn because his movie sucks (figuratively)? Or would Gallo argue it is art? Were some of Warhol films pornographic or just art? What about paintings of Roman or Greek antiquity depicting nude bodies en masse? The ancient drawings of the Kama Sutra; porn, art or just helpful?

The distinction is important because many people could write off what they see in Antichrist as pornographic. While it has some of the most disturbing sexual imagery I’ve ever seen in a film, and intercourse is the third or fourth shot of the film, I would argue that this is not porn.  This transcends porn.  This transcends misogyny, as many opponents ridicule this film as misogynistic. It is a beautifully shot and acted descent into utter madness.

This film will not be for everyone.  In fact, it will be for very few of you.  But if you want to experience a story that will stir your emotionally, get you thinking and questioning what you’re watching, if you want to see cinematography that also should have been nominated for an Oscar, then go see this movie.  If you’d rather see Katherine Hiegl again bumble around with (insert male lead) in another trite rom-com, I think that movie is coming out soon.

On a small tangent about Lars: It is no secret in Hollywood or elsewhere in the filmmaking community that von Trier is disturbed (of which he tries to overcompensate for or suppress with overwhelming arrogance).  According to Anthony Dod Mantle (the Oscar winning cinematographer from Slumdog Millionaire) in his interview with American Cinematographer, von Trier battles depression with a plethora of anti-depressants and habitually disappears from set for hours at a time.  After watching Antichrist, it is clear he is trying to plunge us all into his haunted mental state and torture our souls because f*@ked up people love f*@king up other people.   Enjoy!

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