When I sat down to watch the new controversial Lars von Trier movie, Antichrist, I knew I would be watching something that was going to test my limits. I knew based on the title and critical reaction thus far that I would see disturbing images I had never seen before. But nothing prepared me for this. Though a drama for the most part, two outrageous depictions of sexually explicit violence had me shielding my eyes in horror. Think along the lines of genital mutilation and you'll get the idea. One scene in particular has taken my young, easily aroused male physicality and turned it into a temporarily defunct, impotent dangle of skin that I will never quite look at the same way again. This isn't one to take your grandmother to kids.
Antichrist is split up into four chapters—Grief, Pain, Despair and The Three Beggars—but begins with a prologue that is as beautifully shot as anything I've seen all year. Shown entirely in slow motion and black and white with no sound other than an enchanting opera melody, a couple known only as He and She (played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) are having sex one night while their baby, Nick, rests in its crib. However, he gets out and seems beckoned by the call of an open window, making his way over to it and tumbling to his death. She becomes stricken by the event, feeling guilty due to her negligence, and He, being a therapist, wants to help her through her grief. He employs many tactics, but none seem to be working, so he takes her to Eden (one of many not so subtle biblical references) to confront her demons.
The beginning of this film as outlined above is among the most gorgeous, well shot and downright breathtaking sequences I've seen all year. From the first shot, you know this is going to be a wonderful movie to look at. Antichrist is visual poetry at its best, an aesthetically splendid film that any cinema lover will appreciate, but as a story, it is convoluted and incomprehensible. Featuring talking foxes, subliminal imagery and shots of plants that I can only assume work as some outlandish metaphor, this film is interesting at best and poorly constructed at worst. I appreciated its effort, but I hated its inept storytelling.
As interesting as this movie starts out, it goes downhill quickly and turns into a narrative slug, moving slower than a fat kid hiking up a mountain. Once the couple arrives in Eden, nothing happens, quite literally, for a very long time. Sure, you could argue that von Trier was telling a story through his lush visuals, but I dare somebody to decipher it. The movie is like a really attractive stupid girl. It may be beautiful to look at, but it sure doesn't make much sense.
Because of its narrative incoherence, I have no doubt that this movie will create many different theories as to its meaning. What I saw was a suggestion that women are naturally evil, as evidenced by an important line of dialogue late in the movie and a body of work He found in the attic detailing the hundreds of women burned at the stake in the 1600's. But just when thought I had it figured out, just when I felt comfortable with my thoughts, Antichrist threw me for a loop. I deduced that this idea of women being evil stemmed from their sexuality, which is all too literally exorcised from the female's body in one horrifically disturbing scene, but her actions directly after this moment contradicted my theory. You can make any argument you want towards this one, but I'm going to chalk my confusion up to poor storytelling, not an inability on my part to think analytically.
If there's one thing that carries Antichrist through its own blunder of a story, it's the acting. Dafoe and Gainsbourg are terrific, taking this absurd art house picture and running with every single crazy scenario and nonsensical plot turn. Their devotion to their roles doesn't quite make up for its lack of coherence, but they do give it a sense of authenticity that may have been missing otherwise.
I went into Antichrist having never seen another movie in the director's filmography and the question I kept asking myself when it was over was, does this movie make me want to see another Lars von Trier film? Yes, but for its artistic integrity only. His eye for visual beauty is a sight to behold, but his storytelling is a complete mess and regardless of how awe inspiring the imagery may be, it isn't enough to justify sitting in a theater and subjecting yourself to such perserve acts of sexual violence, of which I've purposely been vague on throughout this review. If you're a film lover and you want to see a director mastering his visual craft, this is an absolute must see, but for everybody else, stay away. My final verdict on Antichrist? Skip it.
Antichrist receives 2.5/5