Monday, November 16, 2009

I Survived Antichrist and All I Got Was This Stupid Blog Post

Against all odds, Antichrist may very well have been my most anticipated movie of 2009, and keep in mind this was the year of Star Trek and Inglourious Basterds. I have little to no experience with Lars von Trier's work and was really only tangentially aware of his existence, but the buzz had been building for this one even before its shocking premiere at Cannes in May. All reviews I had read told me that no movie I have seen or will see in my lifetime will shock and disturb be quite as much as Antichrist would. I must say that the heralds of shock and disgust were right; Antichrist really messed me up and shook and touched me in ways very few films ever have. Keep in mind that I spent an entire month watching horror movies.

Antichrist's story sounds innocuous enough: He, played by Willem Dafoe, and She, chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg- daughter of Serge, are a couple whose young son dies. Typical enough, right? Well, the kid dies while mom and dad are having hot, hot sex in black and white slow motion with a Handel aria playing. As we are treated to a very, very intimate view of He and She's lovemaking, their toddler falls out an open window, dying on the sidewalk below. The couple go into a deep state of mourning, and She seems to take it especially hard, fainting at their son's funeral and exhibiting signs of extreme hysteria. Psychiatrist He suggests that they retreat to their secluded cabin in the woods, Eden as a way of getting over She's grief. When they arrive in the woods, things seem to go well enough until Nature herself seems to turn against them and He endures a series of bizarre and disturbing visions of the local fauna and She begins to seriously lose whatever was left of her mind. The end result is a battle of the sexes that is likely to trigger a lot of intense and hurtful conversations on the ride home for any couples unlucky enough to see this movie on a date.

I don't think I've ever seen a movie quite like this. It's really impossible to say whether I loved or hated it, because I honestly feel both ways about it. The film is beautifully crafted and its two lone actors deliver great performances. It also accomplished the task of any horror movie and scared the bejesus out of me. But just as you can define a movie by the emotions it seeks to elicit from its audience (horror goes for scares, comedy for laughs, etc.) this one seems to be masterful and getting a certain reaction from those who view it: hate and disgust. Von Trier had been going through a three year bout of severe depression when he made Antichrist, and the end result is effectively a two hour piece of hate mail at the world and womankind in particular.

Antichrist is brutally misogynistic, I'm really surprised this hasn't been protested by women's groups and I'm not saying that because I think feminists are a bunch of uppity buzz-kills who hate men and won't let them have fun or something, they really would have every reason to hate this movie. She is portrayed as an irrational, insane, dangerous, and hateful harpy who seeks to destroy and undermine the rational and helpful He at every turn (think Nietzsche's Apollo/Dionysus stuff). It's almost refreshingly pre-modern, playing almost like some sort of very politically incorrect Greek tragedy or fable about the dangers of feminine power than anything that's been made since the Enlightenment (plenty of Rousseau in here too) or something. In fact, what this reminded me of more than anything was Medea.

Lars von Trier seems to have made Antichrist as a way of working through his own depression and sharing it with (or perhaps inflicting it on) the rest of the world. It serves to do nothing but inspire feels of dread and anxiety in its audience and whatever intellectual value can be taken away from it is regressive at best and dangerous at worst. It also contains some images, particularly in its final act, that you will never be able to un-see.

That being said, despite it's shock value and reprehensible message, there is some worth to Antichrist. As has been said before it is very well made and is a great example of how film has many uses besides entertainment. It communicates an idea effectively and if the entire audience didn't leave the theater feeling the exact same way (terrible) at every single screening, I would be surprised. I honestly think Von Trier should be at least nominated for Best Director at this year's Oscars.

Also, you need to see it to witness "Chaos reigns!", this year's "I drink your milkshake!".

Final verdict: 50 Congos*

*The movie gets such a high Congo rating because it has its fair share of merits and should be seen. If it were any other movie it might be reasonably higher, but I never want to watch this movie again; I've suffered enough. Steph, feel free to chime in on whether this is a fair assessment.