Not Just a Movie, an Experience
(and there is lagniappe so come and join us)
While a couple is having sexual intercourse in one room, their son falls out of the window in another room and dies. The mother is so grief-stricken that she is hospitalized but her husband who is a therapist brings her home and wants to treat her depression himself. They decide to confront their fears and go to stay in their cabin in the woods where something terrible happened the summer before. The movie is in a sense literary in that it is told in four chapters with a prologue and epilogue and it looks at acts of lustful cruelty as the man and woman unfold the darker side of nature outside and within. I will discuss this a bit later.
This movie is an experience and I think that it is an unpleasant experience yet it must be seen. The overall tone of the movie was full of dread and presence of some sort of evil can be felt. This is a hard movie to review because it crosses all barriers when it comes to movie making and makes you question yourself about the definition of art and how far is what art is “too far”?
The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and the opening scene is sheer beauty. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are brilliant actors and they were probably emotionally drained by making the film. Oscars.
There is a great deal of violence in the film physical and sexual as well as emotional. It is very realistic and extremely effective. There were times when I wanted to look away and that does not happen in the kind of movies that I usually watch.
Lars von Trier, the director, makes films that provide himself and his audiences with thorny intellectual challenges. He does just what a Freudian psychotherapist would do in releasing obsessions. He locks the terrifying nature of the horror to the most extreme sexual images. The narrative itself follows a similar process. A psychotherapist, with the best intentions, leads his wife into the darkest recesses of her mind. But instead of releasing psychological trauma, he reinforces it, until he has to defend himself when she becomes the controlling force.
A psychotherapist (Willem Dafoe) and his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are making love as their young toddler climbs onto a desk to look at snowflakes outside and falls to his death. This opening prologue is operatic in its soundtrack and intensity. Exquisite photography captures water droplets in slow motion to the music of Handel. There is a very brief, aesthetically contextualized glimpse of penetration, setting the audience up for the psycho-sexual horrors that follow later. In the trauma of bereavement, husband asks his wife to visualize her worst nightmares in order to help her overcome them. She pictures the woods as symbolizing her fear, and they both retreat to an ‘Eden’ – an isolated cabin surrounded by woods.
The film is divided into six parts, including a Prologue (the lovemaking and death), Grief, Pain, and Despair; The Three Beggars, and an Epilogue. At the end of the prologue, the next three chapters are heralded by three toy soldiers from the dead son’s toy room, each appropriately named.
With Grief, comes sorrow from both leads. The players become totally substantial and color is added to the monochrome, and the characters gain some color as well.
As we go through Pain, his wife seems eventually cured but our nerves are frayed. To make this even more effective there is hypnotic pounding of acorns falling on the roof of the cabin, and the husband’s smugness as he treats his wife as a patient rather than as a human being who needs support. He forever has a self-satisfied, smart answer
Chapter three is entitled Despair (Genocide). He learns things about his wife he didn’t know before but perhaps should have. He is pulled into her nightmare. We see him soaked in the rain, at the mercy – for the first time – of the elements. The fourth chapter gives form to the imaginary content of the preceding three, and includes the most upsetting and outrageous scenes (which many may find objectionable). The epilogue provides a narrative and psychological resolution in the only way possible when things have come to such a head and we also see the story relate now to the whole of humanity.
“Antichrist” is sure to get reactions, even from audiences not geared to his work. For them, the extreme and graphic sexual imagery may be too much. For one thing there are several full frontal nude scenes and Willem Dafoe is a fine representation of men and a nice guy.
Lars von Trier’s film is a bit outrageous as it makes us try to feel something. “Antichrist” belongs to its stars. They are spectacular.