Antichrist – Lars Von Trier and extreme grief. (Film Review)
It’s difficult with Lars Von Trier. A part of me wants to adore him, but a part of me knows he panders to women, so another part of me looks upon that with suspicion. But not as much as I look with suspicion on men who hate his films – or women who passionately adore his films (of which I may very well be one). He is a film maker we will understand more in time I suspect. Dealing at the deepest core of conflict between the sexes is something we’ve only really begun to examine with any lucidity in the last couple of hundred years since the female voice has gained some traction. Not that I’m suggestions he has mastered the female voice – but he definitely co-opts the female narrative. And disarmingly well, I have to confess.
It’s hard to know where to start with Antichrist, there are so many themes, and layers and they all sit one upon the other so strongly. This might be a film about the garden of Eden. This might be a film about the mysteries of the female psyche and the males attempt to decipher her with his assertive voice that he can read her, ending up in a pool of his own blood. This might be a film about violence committed against women because of the fears they bring up in the male psyche. This might be a film about grief so destructive it can transform a personality. This might be a film commentary about our obsession with horror and its relationship to sex. This might be a film about our own horror with the sexual image, the destructive capacities of nature… and on it goes. It’s a film about all of those things, and astonishingly it succeeds in establishing fresh perspective on all those discussion points.
Von Trier is cheeky and its in his genes, so despite the darkness of the film, it is laced with the spark in his eye. Apparently he made it when he was severely depressed (if he wasn’t when he started he would be by the end for sure) and it does show through muted colours, lost and abandoned in the woods lots of fog. But that sense of humour that keeps getting him into trouble is there. The opening montage is a beautiful succession of images we see as we watch a couples child fall to his death while the pair are busy copulating. Von Trier gives us a curved sausage of a penis pressing into the space between the curve of a female buttock as part of the beautiful montage. Its deliberate, he wants to interrupt our mesmerized gaze, and he will do it with the same “naughtiness” that got him into trouble in Cannes. He does this and sometimes its hard to tell if its awkward self-consciousness on his part or the provocation that triggers our own.
This for me is where female adoration of Von Trier falls down. A woman looks at that black and white penetration shot and she can include it in the beauty of the moment. I think the male gaze here is more accurate. Von Trier is backing away from his “feminine side” to point and giggle like a man-boy. But here in lies his brilliance. He will self-consciously leave that in. His inclusion of his masculine faults are part of what makes his films so powerful and I think it is this, at its most essential level that makes men so angry with his films. It is this running narrative that allows for the female voice to be spoken without the pandering PC subtext. Yes he is offering commentary, but he brings all of his stupid foolish self to the table.
This is deliberate. It’s Von Triers ability to poke fun at himself (and therefore all men) that make his films so strong. Men are always weak and ineffectual in his films, another reason so many men hate him, but its a mistake to take the route that so many female commentators took after Melancholia, that he “really gets” women. Von Trier dismissed Melancholia as a film made to too low a standard and even though I liked the film, I would have to agree with that assessment. It pandered to the feminine, and this is as repulsive to a female mind as it is to a male. I’m dying to see Nymphomania which comes out later this year, particularly in the wake of Shame, which I can’t bring myself to see, the trailer looks so appalling. Steve McQueen does sex addiction pandering to the male narrative (yawn). When Von Trier panders to the female narrative, he includes male disgust. This makes him a far superior mind capable of handling such a complicated subject.
Von Trier Calls Antichrst, Melancholia and Nymphomania his depression trilogy. As a human being who suffers from depression one assumes he knows what he is talking about. Central to the grief that kills “she” and “he” in Antichrist is the death of their child. Regardless of the multiple topics Von Trier is examining here, grief is certainly pulsing at the heart of everything. It is grief that pulls all the subliminal worm infested (death) impediments to male and female connection to the surface. That the couple were making love (very passionately) when their child dies because he is not being watched, it is no wonder that the horrors they experience in the woods are closely connected with the sexual. This made sense to me, and Von Triers meshing of our cinematic desire lust for the sexual in our horror films (think of all those pretty girls that get gruesomely slaughtered first) he is linking our desire to a kind of grief. What grief is this? Separation and loneliness? Not being “seen” by our chosen other? Our eventual demise which is first made apparent when we have a child? Any and all of these will do.
As I said above, I fall into the school who love Von Trier, though I will add I am wary of liking him too much. Sychophantism is one of his many taunts and I am determined to not fall into that trap. It’s the shadow of loathing after all, that other great emotion he constantly evokes. I think Antichrist is a much better film than Melancholia, even though I think Kirsten Dunst is wonderful (as is Gainsbourg who is just always good), and I can see why Von Trier felt he rushed it a bit. Antichrist throbs with all our difficulties in confronting the world around us and the other in front of us, the fears, the desire and the horror. It evokes our longing for the spiritual and it pokes fun at our need for the rational. As with all his films its very clever and another enormous gift from him. Speaking of gifts, this film was given to me as a present. I’m reading NOTHING into that!