Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Antichrist (2009)


I thought I'd finally check out this arthouse horror film from Lars Von Trier. It's always interesting to see a Serious Filmmaker have a crack at a genre film. If you think this film might not be arty enough for your tastes though, don't be alarmed. There's a black-and-white prologue (ding!) that's shot entirely in slow motion (ding!) and scored by classical music (ding!). Also, there's fucking with full penetration (ding! ding! ding!). That's how you know this is Serious, capital "A", Art.

The two people fucking are Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsborough. Well I guess they aren't actually fucking (the full penetration insert shot was filmed with stunt genitals I believe) but their characters are never named so that's what I'm calling them. While they are busy getting it on, their toddler climbs out of his crib, pushes a chair up to the open window and walks right off the ledge. Splat. As a result, Gainsborough develops some serious issues (grief, guilt, sex) and ends up in a mental hospital. Finding out your son is dead before the wet patch is even dry will do that to you, I guess.

Dafoe isn't happy about all the medication she's receiving so I thought maybe he was a Scientologist, but it turns out he's a therapist as well as some sort of know-it-all asshole and somehow he convinces the hospital to release her into his care. Gainsborough is having nightmares about their remote cabin in the woods (it's called Eden, get it?), so he decides they should take a trip there so she can face her fears. I know what you're thinking; sex-themed accidental death, cabin in the woods; but don't get too excited. This isn't Friday the 13th or Evil Dead. The toddler doesn't come back to life and start killing people and Gainsborough doesn't get raped by tree (although at one point she does rush out into the woods and starts masturbating furiously). No, this is some more psychological shit. Like I said, Serious Art.

I don't know if Von Trier got attacked by a bear or hated summer camp or what, but he makes the woods seem like the most creepy, malevolent place on Earth. Lots of fog, slow-motion etc. Sometimes he goes a little overboard, such as when Dafoe sees a doe with a stillborn foal hanging out of it's vag and makes a seriously silly "what the fuck?" face. There's also the famous scene where Dafoe stumbles across a wounded fox in the woods that turns to the camera and says "Chaos reigns!" in a deep, growly voice. Too subtle Von Trier, maybe you should have had it's eyes glow and shoot fire out of it's mouth.

Mostly the film is about gender issues and tension between the sexes. Men like sports, women be shoppin'. That sort of thing, only spookier. Dafoe is the typical, coldly rational male. He treats his wife clinically, like a puzzle to be solved. He talks to her the importance of grief, how it's a natural part of the healing process, but he doesn't seem to display any of it himself. Gainsborough, on the other hand, is a complete emotional wreck with serious sex issues. It all ties into Gainsborough's abandoned thesis, something about the demonisation of women throughout history. Most people use Microsoft Word and a copy of EndNote, but she compiled a scrapbook full of spooky illustrations and wrote lots of notes in scribbly handwriting, like a serial killer. I can see why she abandoned it. There's also some stuff about how their son might or might not have been the titular Antichrist. I don't know.

Most of the movie is pretty slow and dreamlike, but in the last twenty minutes it gets pretty crazy. Turns out that during her studies of misogyny Gainsborough internalised all that shit about women being evil, and at the end of the film she goes completely batshit. She bashes Dafoe's dick with a block of wood and while he's unconscious she gives him a handjob until he ejaculates blood. Then she cuts her clitoris off with a pair of scissors. Like I said, sex issues. Then she drills a hole in his leg and attaches a millstone so he can't escape. Dafoe manages to drag himself into a foxhole, killing an incredibly tenacious bird so he isn't given away. Eventually he manages to escape, but as he is running through the woods he is confronted by a crowd of creepy, faceless women. Fin.

I liked this one. Von Trier is criticised as being a misogynist, which I guess he invites with his subject matter and frequent public outbursts, but I didn't really get that from this film. The way I see it the film is about man being forced to confront the results of marginalisation and oppression of women and the demonisation of female sexuality. Also that nature kind of blows and talking foxes aren't as creepy as Von Trier thinks they are. In any case, this film makes a pretty effective argument against providing mental therapy for your own family members.

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