Antichrist (2009)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #248

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: 20 May 2009 (Denmark)
Sub-Genre: Arthouse
Country of Origin: Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Sweden
Budget: $11,000,000
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Lars Von Trier
Producer: Meta Louise Foldager
Screenplay: Lars Von Trier
Special Effects: Erik Zumkley
Visual Effects: Peter Hjorth
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Score: Kristian Eidnes Andersen
Editing: Anders Refn, Åsa Mossberg
Studios: Zentropa Entertainments, arte France Cinéma, Canal+, Danmarks Radio, Film i Väst, Svenska Filminstitutet, Sveriges Television
Distributors: Nordisk Film Distribution (Denmark), IFC Films (US), Artificial Eye (UK)
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Storm Acheche Sahlstrøm

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Kristian Eidnes Andersen Soundtrack Suite

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Let me weep my cruel fate, and I sigh for liberty. May sorrow break these chains of my sufferings, for pity’s sake.

As much as film is there to entertain, it is often also tasked with being provocative. When Lars von Trier is seated behind the lens, invariably it is the latter which is most prominent and this is proven with the maiden entry in his Trilogy of Depression which culminates in Melancholia and Nymphomaniac: Vol. I. It came as no great surprise to me to learn that the visionary director was suffering from acute depression at the time when Antichrist began its shoot as his conflicted torment runs through every reel of this stunning motion picture.

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It divided audiences at the Cannes Film Festival; some gifted it a standing ovation whereas others cried misogyny and rolled their eyes in disgust. In truth, there is nothing misogynistic about Antichrist, but its stark imagery and gag-inducing self-mutilation was too much for some to stomach and the film vilified in certain quarters. It’s no easy ride and neither is that the intention but, in a genre where audiences are too often dictated to, it is bold enough to attempt something truly inimitable. If Ingar Bergman was still alive and dropped acid, this is likely the film he would have made. In addition, Anthony Dod Mantle’s remarkable monochrome photography and Kristian Eidnes Andersen’s sparse but effectual audio arrangement lend unbounded weight to its cause.

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“If you can conceive and believe, then you can achieve” He

Antichrist is a film comprising of four distinct acts, each tackling the varying stages of personal loss. It is bookended by strikingly shot black and white wraparound segments which slow things down to a molecular level as though the world around is grinding to a near halt while a haunting aria plays out agonizingly. The opener sets the tone exquisitely whilst making it abundantly clear that von Trier has no intention of entertaining and instead he explores the frailties of the human condition with the purpose of extending no clear-cut solution.

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Its sole protagonists are stripped back to their gender identifiers. He and she are severely wounded animals, attempting to make sense of the incomprehensible untimely death of their infant which She feels responsible for. He is a therapist and attempts to apply rationale to her actions where logic isn’t called for. She is in an entirely natural place, struggling to come to terms with her overbearing grief and He decides the best course of action is to treat her himself, even though this is ordinarily frowned upon. Medication is stopped and numbing agents removed, allowing her to experience every inch of her passage through this dark place.

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“All things cry, all things die” She

She has been doing her thesis on witchcraft and exploring whether women are inherently evil and this, in turn, leads her to believe that she is wholly responsible for her son’s death. He takes advantage of her mental frailty and uses it to impose his calmly delivered condescending clap trap, preventing her from dealing with her feelings head-on. When she needs to feel loved, he takes on an authoritarian role and when she is stricken with paralyzing grief he is at his most tender. This suggests the nature of the beast and, in turn, the beast in nature.

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Upon ascertaining her deepest-rooted fear as being the woods he promptly packs their bags and drives them out to a secluded cabin enveloped in a woodland called Eden for refuge. Here he continues to strip away her sense of identity while subjecting her to each of the principle stages of grief bound to surface after such a devastating loss. With one hand he molly-coddles, while the other asphyxiates, and he does so clinically and with unfaltering arrogance. He blames She on some level and his actions reflect that. Once we reach Eden the pair are in the hands of nature and events take a turn for the ‘sadomasochistic’.

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“Exposure. That’s the only thing that works. Everything else is just talk. You have to have to courage to stay in the situation that frightens. And then you’ll learn that fear isn’t dangerous” He

Willem Dafoe would be an ideal poker buddy. There is no finer face in the industry and his Grinch-like grin could lead you to go all in with a pair of 6’s. His casting is pitch perfect here and his turn exhibits detachment and involvement side-by-side beautifully. Less may be asked of the character of He as his intent is less well documented than She but he still gives readily. Few actors could have given such a courageous turn and while on the topic of dauntlessness…

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Charlotte Gainsbourg had already impressed me no end in Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep but here she is asked so many more questions as an artiste. Her histrionics are, of course, first-rate but there is something earthy about her performance which showcases her understanding of what is expected of her. Put simply, she is utterly spellbinding and it is easy to see why she picked up the Best Actress Award at Cannes and has remained in von Trier’s plans ever since.

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“A crying woman is a scheming woman” She

I feel obliged to wax a little sub-text with a film so thought-enabling as Antichrist and von Trier, always the provocateur, leaves no real breadcrumb trail to follow. Instead he requests that you put in the legwork yourself. Considering his own psychological trauma I would say that his vagueness speaks volumes. This is as honest and true a film as you will have seen in many a year and the reason for this is that he is giving you both everything and nothing at all. There is integrity in his discombobulation and it is because of the von Triers of this world that films like Antichrist even make it past the planning stage. Confused? Watch his film and it will all make perfect sense…and none at all.

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His reasons for naming his pivotal characters He and She are opaque as they represent their entire breed. Eden is their garden, the fruit has already been consumed and nature has already been called to punish both for their indiscretion. She is an open hemorrhaging wound and He a closed off emotional diabetic who flat refuses to accept that he doesn’t know better than She. Its battle of sexes can make for incredibly uncomfortable viewing but it is the magnetism between them which resonates most.

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Whether or not you will sleep directly after viewing Antichrist remains to be seen. I didn’t catch a solitary wink and blame von Trier for this castrated slumber. His film somehow managed to burrow beneath my sub-conscious and settle like a malignant tumor. I cannot guarantee that you will thank me for signposting you to this deeply unsettling piece of art; it is no easy ramble and leaves you with more questions than answers. Those who require spoon feeding will soon find it lodged in their throats. Should you possess a creative soul and prefer to create rather than trace outlines then you will likely be throwing an all-nighter.

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“Chaos Reigns” Articulate Fox

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers: The acts of sexual degregation are amongst the most uncomfortable I have ever bared witness to. Think along the lines of Nagisa Ôshima’s Ai No Korîda and you will have some inkling as to the debauched antics He and She engage in. If nothing else, this should dissuade most women against ever again pruning their lady gardens. It may also prevent the lathe wheel ankle bracelet ever catching on. The violence is shocking no doubt, but it is always contextualized, never once misogynistic and all the more harrowing for it. Your brain may need two rigorous scrubs after this one.

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