A couple (Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg) lose their young son when he falls out of the window while they have sex in another room. The mother's grief consigns her to hospital, but her therapist husband brings her home intent on treating her depression himself. To deliberately confront her fears, he takes her to their remote cabin in the woods, Eden, where she had spent the previous summer - researching her dark obsession.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
To a song from someone's swoon collection (sung by mezzo soprano Tuva Semmingsen), in extreme slo-mo black and white, the couple make love and reach their climax at about the same time that their toddler son hits the ground after falling out of the window in another room. Lars von Trier is a tad careless with the abandon of passion, showing a bottle being kicked over by a flying foot during sex, but the next shot shows the overturned bottle leaking its contents not far from the lovers' heads. Maybe they're even more active than the images suggest . . . But the main thing here is what the filmmaker wants us to feel: is it the cruelty of life? Is it neglectful parenting? Is it just bad luck? Or is it is part of a grand scheme of things dictated as the order of life for these people? And that is just the prologue, lasting just under 6 minutes.
Chapter 1: Grief. The music is gone (won't return for quite a while), as the funeral (in colour) teases out the grief of the parents. She collapses and is hospitalised. He brings flowers, a caring partner. She begins to build her guilt. Then the conflict begins, the pain driving it. Being a psychiatrist, he tries to guide her through her anxiety. Lars von Trier uses cinematic devices to accentuate the fragility of her calm; but her anxiety grows.
The film continues with three more chapters, each filled with haunting images as her innate fear of nature and a self loathing driven by her black view of her gender grows: Pain, Despair and the oddly symbolic, Three Beggars, before the eerie Epilogue. At some point early on, the mother's grief has become 'naturephobia' - which leads to the chaos that ensues. For more than an hour or so, it is merely curious, unsettling, teasing ... but then, on a dark, stormy night, he discovers her den, with its gothic images of witchcraft and worse, secret things he didn't know about her. At this point, he confronts her with her fear of nature in a way that triggers the forthcoming events.
One of cinema's most active agents provocateur has cast two of cinema's most daring actors in a film that explores his own deep seated fear of nature's evil ... well, nature. Nature, she says, is Satan's church; a great line. As for the infamous clitoris chopping scene, it occurs to me that von Trier simply couldn't let cinema history record that the other great cinematic provocateur, Michael Haneke (in The Piano Teacher), pushed audiences to this edge alone.
Antichrist is a tough film on every level, and each viewer will have their personal and private response; but von Trier's cinematic flourish is undeniable and helps in keeping us engaged emotionally - even when our intellect is struggling to go somewhere else and have a nice conversation.
Review by Louise Keller:
Life, death, sex, religious rituals and genital mutilation are the themes of Lars von Trier's provocative and sensational film whose imagery slashes intentionally at our well-being. With disturbing images that gnaw at us, this is a truly ugly film that delights at shocking us. von Trier kidnaps our thoughts and takes them into dark, repulsive places. The journey is psychological torture in this unsettling film whose perverse images are used to play with our minds. I struggled to sit through the film, closing my eyes in parts; it left a foul taste in my mouth.
von Trier allegedly wrote the screenplay while suffering from depression, and it feels as though he scratched at every open wound in a bid for sensationalism. Cinematically, the film has merit. von Trier is a skilled craftsman who knows only too well how to utilise power on screen. The operatic prologue (artistically shot in black and white by British cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle) is especially stylish, making full use of Handel's plaintively beautiful Lascia ch'io pianga, as it generates expectation for what is to come. It is during this scene that He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are engaged in a graphic sex act in the shower as their toddler son falls to his death from an open window. Orgasmic ecstasy quickly turns to agony, followed by despair.
The four chapters (and epilogue) that follow describe what happens when Dafoe's therapist decides to treat his own wife and make her confront her worst fears ('No therapist can know as much about you as I do.') He takes her to their isolated cabin in the woods where they engage in 'exercises' involving nature ('nature is Satan's church'). A disemboweled fox (that talks), a dead newborn bird eaten by ants, violent sadistic sex and plenty of blood are par for the course. Gainsbourg won best actress at Cannes for her brave (albeit often irritating) performance, but it's Dafoe in my book, whose credibility remains intact.
Published March 4, 2010
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ANTICHRIST: DVD (R)
CAST: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
PRODUCER: Meta Louise Foldager
DIRECTOR: Lars von Trier
SCRIPT: Lars von Trier
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Anthony Dod Mantle
EDITOR: Anders Refn (Asa Mossberg co-editor)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Karl Juliusson
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 26, 2009
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
DVD RELEASE: February 4, 2010