Auschwitz. Rwanda. Human trafficking. These things make us uncomfortable to be human. They are brutal illustrations of humanity’s capacity to act inhumanly towards others, to do abominable, unspeakable things.
Similarly, international filmmaker Lars von Trier’s controversial Antichrist is a film that will have you squirming in your seat, a veritable testament to audio-visual torture.
Seasoned actor Willem Dafoe plays unnamed male (“He”) opposite unnamed female Charlotte Gainsbourg (“She”). Both fearless actors have faced their fair share of controversy in the past, from Dafoe’s humanistic portrayal of Jesus in Scorsese’s 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ to Gainsbourg’s duet with her father, the late Serge Gainsbourg, titled Lemon Incest. With Antichrist, von Trier presents us with a couple faced with a massive elephant in the room.
While the two are busy mid-coitus, the couple’s toddler and only child falls to his death on a snow-covered parking lot outside their second-story window. She withdraws inside herself and falls into a near-comatose state for weeks until Dafoe’s character, a therapist, takes her out of the hospital (and off the meds) and tries to treat his new “patient.”
Gainsbourg’s character uses sex as a coping mechanism, which obviously leads to a conflict of interest.
When summer arrives they decide to travel to their cabin in the woods, aptly named “Eden,” where he continues to try and reach her and help her cope with the loss she feels so deeply. Then things begin to unwind, creating a chaotic, dangerous environment out at the secluded cabin.
While von Trier uses a lot of very subtle symbolism throughout the film, how exactly the casual viewer is supposed to discern the meanings of the rather labyrinthine innuendos is beyond my comprehension.
It’s entirely possible this rather flawed effort simply puts on an aura of there being more than can be simply seen, but in the end it feels like it’s merely full of hot air.
Undoubtedly, this is going to be a film you’re going to love or hate, but either way you’ll end up with a bitter taste in your mouth. The nasty, desperate things being portrayed don’t spare any details. The extremely graphic violence here spans the spectrum of torture, self-mutilation and gore.
Von Trier’s dark horror-drama certainly isn’t a movie to sit down to watch with mom and pops.
Watch Antichrist at your own peril.
Published in Volume 64, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 18, 2010)