269) Antichrist (2009) Dir: Lars von Trier Date Released: October 2009 Date Seen: August 26, 2009 Rating: 2/5
It's sad to think that Antichrist was the most talked-about film at this year's Cannes Film Festival as it really is just another Lars Von Trier film. In other words, it's a smug, pseudo-intellectual prank that viciously attacks the audience after overtly telling them they will be scolded. The film opens with a hilariously cynical wordless prologue where Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Defoe fuck frantically as their child topples out of a window and opera music plays while everybody moves in slow motion. Rather than sincerely trying for affecting pathos, the scene announces the film's lack of earnest emotion and Von Trier's infantile unwillingness to even try to be serious.
For von Trier, that scene is an opening salvo and a promise that the audience will be abused should they choose to be baited by his usual misanthropic brand of cinematic brutality. And he makes good on that promise with a talking fox, clit clipping, leg stabbing, bird killing, and on and on. It's like Long Weekend meets Dogville plus a little Evil Dead 2 thrown in for shits, giggles and idiotic, strictly provocative ideas about how nature is the source of misogyny. Just another day for Mister, yawn, Enfant Terrible.
The story of Defoe and Gainsbroug's characters, named only "He" and "She," unfolds incrementally and faux-seriously, as a story about "She"'s recovery after suffering a nervous breakdown. "He" takes her to the country to help her overcome her fear of nature, which "She" says is her greatest fear. From those seemingly innocent beginnings unfolds a gnarled, emotionally dishonest allegory of how Nature is the root of the abuse of women. That impulse first takes hold of "She" as masochism but eventually infects "He" despite his feeble protests that he is, in fact, an enlightened male.
Thinking about Antichrist after having seen where von Trier takes his characters, the trajectory of the film is disarmingly simple.* The film's plot single-mindedly proves that even mild-mannered "He," a therapist and hence man of science, can fall prey to the inexplicable emotions that make him want to punish his wife for being a sexual creature. There are signs from the start that he will heed this call of the wild. From the beginning, "He" doesn't trust her to take her anti-pyschotic medication, proving that he himself distrusts certified medical science. Also, he will begin to see strange things to echo "Her"'s insane predictions of doom the longer "He" stays with "She" in their cabin in the woods, showing that her fear of being overwhelmed by everything and nothing green is in fact not just a figment of her imagination.
The roots of Natural Evil are already in "He," just waiting to flourish. By the film's end, despite his protests to "She," he will want to kill her for her negligence, insanity, cruelty, etc. Or maybe just the fact that she literally cock-blocks him with a loose plank of wood, then punctures and clamps a vice onto his quad, then stabs him repeatedly in the face with a shovel. If you can make something out of that kind of gibberish, you're probably taking the film more seriously than Lars did (he sneers happily in a statement included in my press notes that he believes Antichrist is "the most important film of my entire career!" Right. Just like how he was serious about never wanting to visit America, or sticking to Dogme's tenants, or proclaiming himself to be the greatest filmmaker in the world. Right, right. Gotcha.).
Von Trier's attempts to bait the viewer are so tired that I can't even bring myself to gasp when he pulls the rug out from under me any more. It's not shocking, titillating or controversial so much as silly and nonsensical. I wish Antichrist were worth infuriation but the most I can muster is a tired "Meh." Some fun bits of obnoxiousness, some stupid, some good dramatic bait, most not. Just meh.
*This is one of von Trier's biggest cons, the idea that he is earnestly interested in experimenting with a Strindbergian concept of minimalistic drama (hence "He" and "She" and nobody else in the film).