Saturday, October 31, 2009

Antichrist

After the accidental death of their young son, a therapist takes his wife to their secluded cabin in the woods in a misguided attempt to help her deal with her grief. He wants her to face her fears in order to overcome them, unaware that her fears may very well be justified. A malevolent force seems present in the woods ("chaos reigns") and his treatment may be further pushing his wife towards the edge.

I've long wished that that more established, talented directors would take a stab a horror movies once in a while, even joking a while back that they should have hired Werner Herzog to direct the Halloween remake. Lars Von Trier has proved me right with Antichrist, the best and most genuinely horrifying horror film of the year, and although I'd have to see it again, likely one of the best of the decade.

Von Trier has a reputation for being something of a provocateur, so I'm a little surprised he hasn't gotten to this genre sooner. His main asset here is his uninhibited willingness to go epic, to chase after monumental and powerful images of terror, without regards for moderation. The film does brush up against camp on a few occasions (prompting a few uncomfortable laughs in the audience), but the power of the best images outweighs these moments, and in a weird way these moments fit the film's go-for-broke style.

Although Antichrist is anything but your typical horror film, ignoring usual plot conventions and delving much deeper into the realm of psychological horror than most films, Von Trier shows a mastery of horror imagery and atmosphere. The bulk of the film is a masterpiece of mood and tone, unsettling even when nothing seems to be going on, and the lead actors are both entrancing. The finale is as disturbing and intense as I've seen in the genre in a good long while. Antichrist is the real deal, the rare horror film that gets under your skin and into your mind, and sticks with you long after its ended.

11 comments:

Shenan said...

i think this is the first "psychological thriller," if we want to call it that (though the movie seems almost too good to pigeonhole like that) that touches on the idea of...i guess that if our fears and sense of evil are really constructions of our mind, then doesn't that mean there is, inherently, something evil in ourselves? and doesn't that make our nature evil, if even a part of it is evil? and the fear as well as guilt and anger that become of that. it also explored issues of inherent guilt over/evil in being a woman, when a woman's defining feature of being a woman (her sexuality) causes something "evil" to happen. which i think is a new one, as far as i've seen

i very very much liked this, despite the one moment i thought it went into cheesiness ("chaos reigns").

Dan said...

I think where you and I differ on this is that, while I agree that there is a heavy psychological acpect to this movie, I also think that there really IS some sort of malevolent force in the woods. The woman says "nature is Satan's church" or something to that effect, she's right. The man sees the "three beggars" in the woods before he finds out about her weird theories, and it seems as though her predictions come true.

You're also mentioning all of the things that critics site as being misogynist in the film. I don't know, they may be right. The film seems to show a fear of women, at the very least. What do you think?

Shenan said...

To address the first point: my take was that he started to fall into her madness/paranoia/anxiety and saw things himself, which may or may not have been there (I mean, the deer and the bird are feasible; those things happen in nature- babies are stillborn and birds get trapped in caves. The fox was obviously not real or realistic) then when he learned about the "three beggars" his mind invented the connection between the animals he has seen (I mean, it's pretty common to see foxes, deer, and birds in the woods) and the paranoia and anxiety.

He may have really seen the animals and assigned malevolent connotations to the seeming cruelty of nature that was affecting them (and you know, hallucinated the fox talking), or have seen the animals but hallucinated the cruel things happening to them, or have not seen any of them for real but had seen frightening hallucinations of animals commonly found in the woods because that's where he was. He also may have been aware of it already, at least vaguely or subconsciously, because his wife was working on this thesis for a long time; he couldn't have avoided see it or hearing about parts of it that whole time. I dunno. My take was that there was nothing actually evil there but the anxiety and fears of the people.

On the second point: I don't think it's misogynist to explore something, and explore how people feel it or internalize it or why some people might feel it. Von Trier isn't going "ALL WOMEN ARE EVIL!" He's exploring a) how people have felt and acted on this in the past, and b) how one woman could be so wracked with guilt and anxiety that she begins to question to structure of her own reality and her own nature, maybe internalizing those kinds of messages. He's not standing there behind the camera going "The message of this film is that women are evil because this woman thinks maybe she is and acts on it."

I think it's more about the psychological unraveling that makes her- and him- flirt with the idea to begin with (then become overtaken by it).

Dan said...

Of the three Von Trier films I've seen, all seemed to feautre extreme emotional and physical brutality aimed at women, although this is the first time that he makes the woman explicitly sinister. Much of the horrific imagery seems to play off of twisted images of femininity or motherhood (deer with stillborn baby), or males fears of women (genital mutilation). I just wouldn't be surprised if the man has some issues.

Although obviously symbolic, I still think the strange events are literal and not hallucinations. I'd be inclined to agree with you if there was some part where a character snapped out of it and saw "reality", but the weirdness is given equal weight to the realistic parts of the movie. Like I said, the man starts seeing these omens before he finds the woman's writings. She's not wrong to fear the woods, there really is something evil lurking there.

Perhaps it's what corrupted her in the first place? It's clear that she was already ill before the death of the child (i.e. she had been abusing the child, becoming obsessed with her witchcraft research). And it seems to stem from her earlier trip to Eden. It's like the fox says, chaos reigns in Eden. And this choas maybe be the Antichrist the title refers to.

Shenan said...

well, it is before he finds her book she was putting together for her thesis, but he knew enough about it to call it "glib" apparently, before. so i kind of think he probably knew a lot of about it already, being the arrogant intellectual he was.

and i dunno. the fact that he never "snapped out of it" doesn't really rule out descent into madness for me. agree to disagree, i suppose.

Shenan said...

Oh I forgot to respond to this part: "Of the three Von Trier films I've seen, all seemed to feautre extreme emotional and physical brutality aimed at women, although this is the first time that he makes the woman explicitly sinister. Much of the horrific imagery seems to play off of twisted images of femininity or motherhood (deer with stillborn baby), or males fears of women (genital mutilation). I just wouldn't be surprised if the man has some issues."

Ugh. That's what I hate about feminist criticism sometimes. Not that you're making it here (it may be entirely possible that the guy does have some issues). But it's like...there's plenty of twisted images of masculinity (physical brutality/killing/violence itself?) and lots of brutal violence aimed at men in like....half of all movies made. Are they anti-man?? It's like you can't even explore the concept of a darker or sinister side to the female sexuality without being branded as a woman-hater. You can definitely explore the evil side to a man without hating men. Don't even get me started on this (I guess you already did).

I will just say that I, as a woman, was not offended by this film just because it didn't glorify the purity of my sex.

Shenan said...

debatin'!

i think the amount/length of comments here attests to the compellingness of the movie. everyone go see it. except those easily offended.

Joseph said...

My interpretation of this thing is that its about the way in which both men and women are immersed in a culture which regularizes masculinity and things which are are perceived to be masculine (logic) and finds femininity and things which are perceived to be feminine (emotion) unnatural and frightening. Are imperfect mothers or emotional people insane? Or does the crushing weight of our expectations of normalcy drive perfectly sane people to conclude they are insane and maybe, as in this case, move from assuming they're insane and evil to actually BEING insane and evil. And if so, whose fault is it, the person who was struggling with all the problems everyone does, or the person who decided that he could "fix" her by suppressing his own humanity? This is why "He" sees the women at the very end, methinks; he realizes his role in the long history of destruction of women's psyche.

Unfortunately, because Von Treirs genuinely does seem to have issues with women, and is definitely a certified asshole of the highest order, I think people were quick to jump to conclusions about this film which aren't really justified in the film itself. Glad to hear someone besides me thought this film was worthy of some thought, though. (Mr. Subtlety)

Dan said...

For all the complaints of misogyny I've read about the film, no one ever seems to note that Dafoe's arrogantly misguided attempt at "fixing" his wife are very likely what pushes her over the edge.

I like your interpretation of the film very much, good sir.

Patrick said...

Finally got to see this and was disturbed in the best possible way. I have to agree with Joseph on the most part. What really struck me in the first segment was how violently Dafoe prvented her advances, each time shoving her down and deliberately covering her mouth.
The only other Von Trier films I've seen are "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark" where bad things happen to women mostly because of men taking advantage of their feminine qaulities, not because of the women themselves.

Dan said...

Damn, my Antichrist post is blowing up tonight.