Lars Von Trier’s grisly film, Antichrist has a plethora of abysmal attributes for a horror, erotic, and somewhat meditative art film. The common recycled plot line about characters enduring a trauma that triggers their psyche to do insane things to rectify their innermost turmoil which consequently, mimics similar films (with less trauma) such as the Machinist, Bellflower, and even the mini-series the Leftovers all of which bathe in the same grief-guilt-ridden tub. So, what makes Antichrist stand out other than the fact that Lar Van Trier tributes his entire film to Andrei Tarkovsky which, makes me raise a questionable eyebrow? Visually, it has a spellbinding lure that hypnotizes the audience with the use of slow motion and black and white imagery, just enough to keep their attention span from waning until suddenly they want to claw their eyeballs out as all hell breaks loose. It’s disturbing and the images will burn blatantly into your mind for days while all the kitten videos in the world cannot save your sorry soul. The fox was correct in that “Chaos Reigns” especially when grief stricken souls run rampant in an isolated cabin called Eden. How appropriate and yet spiritually symbolic. It’s as if we’re rehashing the biblical story of creation except in reverse with now a story of destruction where a satanic force is now playing god with these two damaged souls.
And yet, misogyny (which is common in most horror films) seems to be Von Trier’s forte in that he’s subjugating his audience to the idea that women are bad in nature because they have no control over their bodies, therefore are going to unleash havoc on those who threaten them. Which, okay its understandable women defending themselves in self-defense, but not so much in a sadistic manner to themselves let alone people they love. Okay, maybe there are a few bad apples but, not all women. If Sherry Ortner’s ideas on “women are closest to nature as men are closest to culture” rings true, then it makes sense women have no control over their bodies as no one really has control over nature.
Von Trier exceedingly creates a catastrophic, lip biting, heart stopping, tantalizing, gruesomely, terrifying spectacle of a film where you don’t know whether to scream, or have a lobotomy. Despite its cataclysmic conflict of a married couple coping with the death of their child, who falls out of a window during their excruciatingly graphic love making scene, there lays the thematic thread of grief that ties the narrative together in a very disturbing nature. The mere reaction of the wife climaxing as her son falls to his death sends chills down one’s spine. And from that jumping off point (no pun intended) grief in fact makes people (in this case) do outlandish things. For instance, Willem Dafoe’s character takes it upon himself to “cure” his wife from her depression when in fact he should have just left her in the hospital and let depression take it’s course without interfering. But, the couple ultimately decimates one another by inflicting emotional and sexual abuse such as self mutilation, manipulation, aggressive sex and other sadistic behaviors that play out in a nerve racking bloodbath.
Now how does this film tie into Tarkovsky land? Well, there’s the mournful, melancholy tone, the nature shots of the wife blending into the green grass as instructed by her therapist husband, the deer, the fox, the crow and of course there’s the cabin where all memories, truths, and dreams are all projected. It does have a slight reflective Mirror-esque quality in that Dafoe’s character is searching for the truth in his despondent wife’s fear. We then learn that that fear is herself. Makes sense given her guilt of witnessing her son’s departure as she blissfully orgasms. But, then again anyone suffering the death of a child is a hell of it’s own in which case Lars Von Trier disgustingly and skillfully achieves in his vividly gory nightmare. Oddly, Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist makes Italian director, Dario Argento’s sinister, expressionistic film Suspiria feel like a place of refuge.