Thursday, November 18, 2010

Movie Review: ANTICHRIST (2009) Written and Directed by Lars Von Trier, Starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg

A man and a woman are making love when their baby son walks out of a second floor window, falling, along with his teddy bear, to his death. The boy's mother is hospitalized with "abnormal grief." The husband, a psychologist, tells her that grief is normal, and that she doesn't need the medication being prescribed for her by her doctor. The husband insists on his wife's need to confront her grief and her fears, and not medicate herself into a stupor. Weirdly, the husband never seems to lose his calm. He never seems truly traumatized by the loss of his son. Perhaps he holds his feelings inside. Even as he uses his skills as a therapist to try and help his wife, he seems strangely detached from the situation. Maybe the husband suffers from an abnormal lack of grief. Eventually the couple decide they must go to a place called Eden, which is their name for a cabin out in the woods that the wife spent time in attempting to finish her thesis on the history of violence and persecution against women titled Gynocide. Storm and stress ensue.

It's hard to review Antichrist without giving too much away. It's best to watch this film with no idea of what's going to happen, no sense of the depth of the pain the wife is feeling. Beware reading reviews of this film. There are a couple of scenes which have been much worked over by critics, and with good reason. But I would say that it's best to watch this film with no idea of how it unfolds.

Antichrist is a horror film. It deals with horrors that grow out of the conflict between emotion and logic, reason and superstitious terror. It also deals with the hubris of the therapist husband trying to take on his wife as a patient. A classic example of a bridge too far.

At one point the therapist tells his wife that it's our thoughts that distort reality, not reality that distorts our thoughts. Maybe so. But wouldn't it depend upon the mind in question? In the past, women who were accused of heresy and witchcraft could be tortured and burned alive. Some questioned this practice at the time, no doubt, but there were many in those days who accepted the reality of witchcraft, of supernatural powers, God, Satan, the whole bit. You could say that there were a lot of thoughts back then distorting a lot of reality, but maybe reality was too much for ignorant, superstitious people. Some troubles have no easy solution, no easy cause to root out, so many would settle upon a scapegoat, a target of convenience, the community victim soon to be the community sacrifice.

Willem Dafoe plays the husband. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays the wife. Their character names are listed in the credits as He and She. Both actors give intense but effective performances. The actors are confronted with harrowing situations, and they manage to strike the perfect notes particularly in the moments where the characters are in extremis. For a movie that deals with extremes of emotion and conflict, it never seems overacted. Lars Von Trier directs this movie with a great deal of care and precision.

The film also looks great. The woods of Eden look beautiful and clear sometimes, and at other times are shrouded with fog and a mood of impending doom. Von Trier directs the movie in such a way that the psychological state of the wife and husband are never really separate from the landscape. The movie views the woods, nature, through the rationalist lens of the therapist at times, and sometimes through the fearful perceptions of the academic. The mood of one also affects the perceptions of the other. These conflicting perceptions in relation to nature also become a source of conflict and horror.

Antichrist is a great example of horror cinema. It's not about a guy in a mask with a knife or ax. It doesn't have any vampires or zombies. It looks to history and the nuts and bolts of intimate relationships for its sources of terror.

Highly recommended.

Post a Comment