Saturday, January 02, 2010

Antichrist: A review

On the 27th October the English department went to see Lars von Trier’s new film Antichrist. Just like everyone else I expected to see a horror film with a great bloodbath. However, already after the first four minutes all my expectations were exceeded. The first chapter named “Prologue” depicts a love scene between the couple who stays anonymous for the entire film. This scene is nearly pornographic, but beautifully staged in black and white slow motion and accompanied with an aria. The whole scene was filmed with such sensitivity that no one could believe it when the tragedy happened. While the parents make love, their little boy wakes up, goes slowly to the window and falls out. Than the real story begins and shows the parent’s different ways of expressing grief. The mother especially is unable to handle her grief and is lost in her sense of guilt. She seems to shuttle back and forth between an obsession of sex and aggression, but the father, a psychotherapist, thinks that he can help his wife. Therefore both of them go on a trip to their house in the woods, where the real scenario takes place. In the beginning the therapy seems to be successful, but after a while it gives rise to an orgy of sex, violence and psychological blackmail. The film escalates in the scene, where the woman smashes up the man’s genitals, drills a hole in his leg, attaches a big grindstone to it and finally cuts off her own clitoris. After this climax, her death seems the only possible answer. The man strangles his wife and burns her at a stake like the witches with whom she identifies.

Even though the plot sounds extremely horrific and frightening the spectator is for most of the film concerned with other questions. Is it really a murder or just a case of self-defence? Is the Antichrist defeated or has he won? Moreover, the appearance of the three beggars – a raven, a deer and a fox who symbolise the three stages of grief (grief, pain and despair) – will not be explained throughout the entire film. Especially the fox is disturbing when he suddenly says “Chaos reigns” out loud. At the end the woman starts to go mad and imagines that she actually saw her son falling out of the window, but here again the audience is left alone to unravel the puzzle. No one knows if this is just a product of her imagination or if she really saw him. The end itself remains unclear; the man finally makes his way out of the woods when suddenly hundreds of women crawl out of and up the mountain. Are these all the witches from the 17th century? Only Lars von Trier will ever know the answer to all those questions. Nevertheless, he definitely managed to leave the audience filled with questions and confusion.

The film is a mix of a psychological study, crime, drama, and horror and should not be seen by sensitive or weak-hearted people. And it is absolutely not surprising that some women and even men left the cinema at Antichrist’s premier in Cannes and probably in other theatres as well. Although the film is so shocking the performance of the two actors is amazing. Charlotte Gainsbourg is thoroughly convincing and no one believes that she is only acting. Her courage especially is admirable; not every woman would have dared act those scenes where she masturbates stark naked etc. Her performance is completed by that of Willem Dafoe, whose acting is equally outstanding.

Another point worth mentioning is the beautiful filming. Even though Antichrist depicts nature as the enemy, as Satan’s church, the pictures of the woods are stunning. Already from the first second onwards the audience is drawn to the way the film is presented. In the “Prologue” and “Epilogue” the slow black and white pictures release a feeling of pity and also of grief, whereas the three chapters “Grief”, “Pain” and “Despair” show the most beautiful colours and the couple’s emotions without pronouncing them.

All in all Lars von Trier clearly tests the limits of his audience and created an extremely serious film, which shows the depths of a human soul. It is a well-balanced mix of horror and drama and with its great actors and stunning pictures absolutely worth seeing. Antichrist is gripping and will undoubtedly affect all its viewers. Personally, the more I thought about this film, the more I liked it. Here is the official trailer!

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