Movie Review – Antichrist (2009)
When Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) was shown at Cannes in 2010 it divided opinions immediately. While many praised the film’s artistic merits, its explicit violence and sex caused some to walk out of the viewing and the ecumenical jury, composed of Christian filmmakers, to grant it an “anti-award” for its perceived misogyny. Von Trier’s rather arrogant and abrasive personality, naturally, did not help matters.
Antichrist is an experimental horror film, heavily reliant on symbolism and disturbing images, that seeks to generate strong reactions from its audience. Basically a two-person play (starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe), it begins with a couple having sex while their toddler son climbs out their apartment window and falls to his death. It is shown in gut-wrenching slow motion while one of Handel’s arias plays dreamily over the scene. We are then shown the grief of the parents as they try to cope with their loss. The wife is especially distraught, and the therapist husband decides the best way to treat her is to bring them to their woodland cabin where she had spent the previous summer alone with their son while writing her thesis.
For Antichrist, the forest is not a place one goes to to feel at one with nature. Thoreau be damned. One must defend against it as nature is cruel and self-consuming. The death of their child is reflected in their surroundings, from a hatchling falling from its nest to acorns raining down upon their roof. As the story slowly progresses we add witchcraft lore and learn that deeper troubles are brewing beneath the wife’s already cracked surface.
Truly, the film is an adult one, and not only in the sense that the sex is graphic. The themes dig into the fears of adults and particularly of parents – we have not only the fear of losing a child but also of failing as a parent, that we will not act as nature should demand when our child needs us most. We also have the fears of lovers, that when we are naked before another, exposed and vulnerable, we trust that that confidence will not be betrayed. All these and more Von Trier exploits with an impressive artistic hand.
But is it, as the ecumenical jury proclaimed, misogynist? No. The film deals heavily in misogynist themes, but just as a film can deal with racism without being racist, Antichrist explores the history and reality of misogyny without itself being misogynist. However, it is not for the faint of heart and certainly not a movie meant for date night. Though we see a lot of sex, it is never sexy. This is the type of movie that leaves you feeling weighed upon after viewing, even if it does give you a lot to think about, and perhaps even more that you wish you could unsee. Nevertheless, it is a unique experience that the brave among us should experience at least once.