After months of waiting and waiting for Antichrist to trickle down to theatres from the powers that be at Cannes, I finally had the opportunity to see it at a local arthouse theatre in Salt Lake City. Of the two arthouses in town, this is the small one. Small, with one screen. The floor is slanted down to the screen, and is hardwood, so if you drop a skittle, it rattles all the way down until it hits the wall holding the screen. On weekend nights at midnight, this theatre usually plays Orgasmo, or The Rocky Horror picture show. And it only gets the independent films that it’s afraid will scare away the decent, art patron folk of Salt Lake.
I was a little surprised to hear it was playing at this theatre, and became a little concerned, since, clearly, possible embarrassment forced Antichrist to be relegated to the lesser venue.
My worries were well placed. The second Antichrist started, I was on edge. I knew I was in for a ride. My friends all think that I’m not affected by on screen violence. But I am. Quite so. The film begins with a black and white, slow motion montage of the two leads He (Willem Dafoe), and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), having sex. There’s an extreme hardcore shot thrown in there just for fun. While the two are busy climaxing, their toddler son climbs out of bed, to the window sill, and out it. He dies on impact.
The grief felt, particularly by She, is overwhelming for the couple, and She is hospitalized and medicated. He is some sort of therapist himself, and insist She be released into his care, believing she is over medicated and needs to work through the grief on her own terms. Which, despite a plethora of ethical problems, happens. He decides She must go to their cabin in the woods (named Eden), where she can overcome her anxiety and grief (that are inexplicable connected to nature and Eden since their son’s death).
It becomes quite clear that She has equated violence and death with sex. Owing, no doubt, to the son dying during their coitus. At this point, the film spirals down, down, down. There’s all sorts of pagan symbols, horrific images, and brutality. When I say horrific, I’m not exaggerating to say I saw the worst things I’ve ever seen on screen; sexual depravity in ways I didn’t even know exsisted, violent sexual acts, crimes against animals, horrific animal births, self-mutilation on parts of the body that belong in magazines held only behind counters. Lars von Trier has been accused of misogyny for this script that he penned while bedridden with severe depression. The case can be made. The horrific acts occur at the hands of a woman, at a place called Eden (you don’t need to be a Bible scholar to get it). While wrestling with her inner demons, She is greatly disturbed by two features at Eden: an enormous, branchless tree trunk sticking erect out of the ground, and a big fox hole. I’m not great at symbolism, but I think I got it. Willem Dafoe actually crawls up inside this hole seeking safety, but is savagely removed from it by She. Oh boy. If only Freud were still alive.
But more than being just misogynistic, there is no point to this film. I’ve had days to thing it over, and I’m convinced, Mr. von Trier just wanted to mind fuck with us. Congratulations Lars. You’ve wasted everyone’s time.
I’m willing to go to some very dark places for film’s sake, if I feel like there was a point. Maybe I learned something. Maybe I found out something about myself, or explored my own emotions more deeply. But what can be extrapolated from watching an unconscious Willem Dafoe being masturbated until he ejaculates blood, or watching a fox eat its own entrails and then rasp, ‘Chaos reigns,’ is beyond me.
The worst part, is that von Trier is extremely talented. If you want to just look at Antichrist as torture porn, it puts the best Eli Roth could ever come up with to shame. This film is a perfect example of what can happen when a talented director uses his talents for evil, and not for good. While effeciently put together, Antichrist isn’t entertaining, interesting, poignant, or worth seeing in any way.