I don’t get Lars von Trier…let’s just get that fact out of the way from the onset. I’ve never liked his amateur style and musings on big ideas. His Dogma rules of filmmaking are a joke, a list of restrictions that act as a cop-out for his stale style. However, I must admit that von Trier’s newest film looks great, something that I never thought I would find myself saying. Another bit of good news: von Trier, it seems, has learned how to make a movie less than two hours. The bad news: it doesn’t make Antichrist any less excruciating, maddening, inane, and downright silly than his 150+ minute shit sandwiches like Dancer in the Dark or Dogville. This is one of the silliest movies of the year.
Now that I’ve alienated all of my readers who liked this movie let me give a brief plot synopsis and then be done with this movie because I’d like to move on to talking about a more positive film-going experience. The film is about two characters, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who have a night of good ‘ol fashioned sex. The only problem is that their child has climbed out of his crib and onto the window ledge…then he falls to his death. All of this is done with an élan not found in von Trier’s films: the film opens in black and white and looks gorgeous (a first for von Trier), the opening scene nicely uses a bit of opera music as He and She have sex, and their child’s death is juxtaposed by the beautiful snow fall outside. As the aria hits its crescendo, She climaxes and a look of concern crosses her face. This opening was the last moment of the film where I actually was interested in what was going on.
You see, I get tired of von Trier’s “playfulness” in his films. He bludgeons the viewer over the head with his symbolism and it’s annoying as hell. Here, in the opening moments when the child is climbing out of the window, we see three statues that say: pain, grief, and despair. The child knocks them off the table on his way out the window, and I immediately knew von Trier was going to use those words as his annoying title cards. And sure enough he did.
Back to the story: He thinks he can help She, and She doesn’t want his help because she thinks she’s responsible for their child’s death because she is a woman. Get it? You see, She has been studying witchcraft and the idea that women are inherently evil…He thinks his psychobabble can save her and suggests they take a journey to a cabin in the woods where he can dig deeper into her grief…which leads to despair…which leads to a whole lot of crazy, inane stuff that happens in the third act.
Watching a von Trier film is about one of the worst experiences I can think of because there’s never enough on the screen to keep me interested in plodding stories that aesthetically contain nothing visceral. However, in Antichrist he does film an art house horror film that looks pretty damn good. The set design, especially when He and She go to a cabin in the woods (and yes it is called Eden…oh, von Trier, do you really think that’s clever?) is impressive, too. What’s not impressive is the way von Trier drags his actors through so much shit (and to no one’s surprise he places extra emphasis on this with his female character) without anything to show for it. The “themes” or “allegories” are immediately dismissed because they’re presented in such an impossibly ridiculous and outlandish way (seriously, there’s a talking fox in this movie). He doesn’t give his actors much to do…Dafoe spends the first half of the film uttering psychobabble and being one of the most unlikable characters I’ve seen in a long time, Gainsbourg walks around naked a lot, and the two go back and forth between fighting and having sex so many times that I just wanted the whole ordeal to be over at the 30 minute mark.
I guess the film could have worked as a dark comedy/horror film like The Shining (which I think might be what von Trier’s going for with the cabin in the woods and all the madness that follows He and She going to the cabin), or as an exploitation movie (but really does showing us intercourse – penis-in-vagina and all – and slapping women during sex seem daringly "shocking" anymore?); but when it’s all said and done it just seems old hat for von Trier. Nothing shocked me because it’s von Trier…does he not understand that we’re all onto his game, and that it’s a horrible, downright sullen and nihilistic game that no one is interested in? If his point was to test the audience’s endurance, to see how far his acolytes would go in praising his work – even if it is vile and excruciating to get through – then congratulations, Lars, you’ve made your masterpiece.
I don’t care if that’s what von Trier was going for, film shouldn’t be an endurance test. If he wanted to make a straight horror film filled with surreal moments, then maybe I would have bought that third chapter; but dear Christ nothing that happens before that suggests that von Trier is joking, here. There may be deeper themes at work, but I was too disinterested to go explicating for them; as usual von Trier’s misanthropy get in the way of trying to sift through the themes of his films, and finding out just what the hell it is he is trying to saying.
I’ll end with a quote from Tim’s review that can be found on his blog Antagony & Ecstasy:
The whole thing just doesn't add up to more than an elaborate punking, and I think what bothers me is that I don't understand who it is that's being punked. The director's detractors? His fans? Charlotte Gainsbourg? I can say with certainty that the movie's philosophy is nearly as facile as its exploitation, which leaves us with something too thin-blooded to be taken seriously on any level, yet at the same time something far too aggressively nasty in every way to laugh at. It's a film to be endured, though what benefit comes to the viewer for having endured it, I cannot even begin to imagine.
All I can say to that is something that seems appropriate because I was praying throughout for this film to end…Amen, Tim…amen.