Antichrist

Lars von Trier’s Antichrist
Friday, March 12 at 10:00 PM
Saturday, March 13 at 9:00 PM
Sunday, March 14 at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, March 17 at 9:00 PM
Thursday, March 18 at 9:15 PM
Friday, March 19 at 9:00 PM
Sunday, Mar 21 at 7:00 PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

Antichrist is the first horror film from controversial director Lars von Trier (Dogville, Dancer in the Dark). Booed by some at its premier in Cannes and awarded an anti-humanitarian award there by a jury which normally awards films for significant spiritual value, the film has since been slandered in reviews as misogynistic, absurd, or “torture porn”. Many of these reviewers claim to have left the film before it finished, or that they witnessed others doing so.

Antichrist is a difficult and often paralyzing work of cinema, as one might expect from a movie that begins with the death of a small child. Trier, who’s last film was a comedy (as he himself points out several times during The Boss of it All), has now created Antichrist, a horror film true to the genre – and not just because of the controversy surrounding it.

The film explores nearly everything which might be frightening to its audiences: death (infant death, no less), grief and insanity, a cabin in the woods, strange noises, unpredictable and seemingly super-human animals, the power and inscrutability of nature itself, theology and mysticism – from ancient Christian lore to modern witchcraft – gore, pain, genital mutilation, sex and sexual guilt, spousal abuse, hallucinations, mental derangement and ideas of patient turning on practitioner; it is almost as if Von Trier has made a list himself of everything our culture could find scary, and made a film based on this list; consider Trier’s provocative titling of the film.

Antichrist centres around a man, He (Willem Dafoe) and a woman, She (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Most of the events take place in a woodland retreat called “Eden”. The film is rife with religious imagery and reference: “nature”, Gainsbourg asserts, “is Satan’s church”.

And yet despite its title, Trier’s religious imagery is likely not meant to be carefully dissected as religious allegory or parable, just as She’s studies of “gynocide” (historical instances of the murder of women), and subsequent assertions that these women deserved this fate, cannot be interpreted as the opinions of the filmmaker himself. Likewise, scenes in which Dafoe and Gainsbourg’s characters undergo significant (and famously graphic) genital mutilation in the film cannot be dismissed as exploitation, prefaced as they are by images of Gainsbourg overwrought with physical depression and Dafoe’s vivid hallucinations and struggles as he begins to believe that, contrary to his scientific beliefs, there are evil and supernatural forces at play in the world.

Is it possible that Trier is trying to uncover in us what makes us the most uncomfortable; the most afraid?

Lars von Trier is a director accused of countless acts of misogyny-on-celluloid (or digital-misogyny, as it would be called in most cases). Would his worst possible move not be to make a movie such as Antichrist, and to go so far as to hire a journalist as a “misogyny consultant”? Which is exactly what Trier has done. It is too easy to simply write off his works as misogynistic, as some audiences have. Trier’s works are often complex and his view of the human condition has always been fairly bleak at the very least.

In his Golden Heart trilogy, terrible things happen in droves to Trier’s innocent female leads: in the 1996 film Breaking the Waves, a woman is raped to death in an attempt to satisfy her dying husband’s sexual desires, while in 2000’s Dancer in the Dark, a blind mother is hanged in front of a crowd for a crime she did not commit. Misogyny, or hyperbolized human tragedy? Trier’s films move beyond the political barriers imposed on art today as each film portrays an individual situation, no matter how parabolic it may appear; each film relies strongly on the forces of chance, on individual circumstances and on life’s supremely subtle missteps to folly.

Antichrist is no different. It is the story of a couple ruined twice: once by the death of their child, and secondly, and maybe more powerfully, by superstitions and prejudices which modern consciousnesses may protest died with Freud, but still lie ingrained within our culture and subconscious minds. Antichrist examines the potential these anxieties have to poison us when we examine them either too closely and clumsily – as Gainsbourg and Dafoe learn – or, perhaps, when they are not examined closely enough.

– Kristel Jax

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From Uptown Magazine March 18, 2010:

Challenging psychological drama
Antichrist isn’t the easiest film to watch – but the experience is worth it

Forget what you may have read: this is a great film.

Lars von Trier’s Antichrist was greeted with a mixed reaction at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Critical opinion is split: the movie holds a 49% rating at Rottentomatoes.com.

This doesn’t prove anything, but it isn’t surprising. Antichrist is a deeply challenging film. It confronts nihilism and human despair head-on, without flinching; it’s thus perhaps inevitable that many in the audience will.

Be warned: this film contains almost indescribable violence. Yet it’s not the freak show the movie’s press may suggest. The film isn’t merely saturated with senseless gore; the violence has purpose and, when the characters commit it, they have reasons.

Those reasons, however, are open to interpretation. Like all great films, Antichrist allows for multiple meanings. It’s quite possible to make sense of it on various levels. What meaning the film holds for you depends upon exactly how you evaluate what’s onscreen.

Antichrist suggests a frightening existential question: are human beings simply evil? The character known only as She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) begins to wonder after her son accidentally dies while she and her husband (Willem Dafoe) are making love.

The couple is grief-stricken, yet the loss may have affected the wife more profoundly. She blames herself. The husband, a therapist, tells her she cannot, and tries to treat her. It does not occur to him that what she really needs is for him to be her husband.

They retreat to their cabin, called Eden. She confides her fear of the woods, of nature; it seems dark, senseless, malevolent. It seems that way to the husband as well, in disturbing visions that may or may not be real. Yet he tries to remain rational.

Too rational, perhaps. The wife protests he doesn’t love her. He doesn’t seem to feel. She becomes abusive. Is she trying to provoke a reaction?

And what about the dissertation she spent time at the cabin writing, on the subject of witchcraft and misogyny? Has she internalized the very self-hating ideas she intended to dispel? Does she see herself as an evil being, born of an evil world?

Some think this is the conclusion von Trier reaches – but that’s not necessarily so. What’s important is that She may conclude that. She cannot make sense of their tragedy and, when all sense has left, with it goes all meaning.

While Antichrist hints at darker possibilities, the film functions as a spellbinding psychological drama. It’s possible to view the film purely as human tragedy – which is to say, the characters’ own personal flaws and the self-destruction to which they lead.

I know many would rather not see a film like this. But, in addition to being entertained, we deserve serious films that examine serious subjects.

We owe it to ourselves to be confronted with profound questions about human existence. We owe it to ourselves to reflect. Antichrist may shake you – but that’s a good thing.

– Kenton Smith

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~ by cineflyer on March 12, 2010.

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