By FOREST TAYLORIs there any more controversial filmmaker working today than Lars von Trier? Both his films and his frequently bizarre interviews have generated more controversy than any other movie maker I can think of in recent memory. With his new films, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 now being released, I decided to take a look back on von Trier's most provocative and polarizing film released yet: 2009's Antichrist. When von Trier revealed that his next film was going to be a horror movie, I think most people expected something shocking and out of the ordinary, but I don't think anyone quite expected this.
The film centers around a male and female pair of protagonists, known only as "He" (Willem Dafoe) and "She" (Charolette Gainsbourg). While engaged in some intense slo-mo sex, their infant son crawls out of a window and falls to his death. After the funeral, She finds herself inconsolable with grief. He, being a therapist, refuses to confine her to a hospital and vows to treat her himself. During the treatment, He learns that She has an intense fear of their old cabin in a place called "Eden", where something unknown to us happened the summer before. He decides to take them both back to Eden so that She can confront her fears. However, the minute they arrive, all of nature seems to be against them. They encounter three beggars in the form of animals including a wounded crow, a deer with its own still born child hanging out of it, and a talking fox... yes, a talking fox. Also, She begins to lose her grasp on sanity and she begins to act violently towards He.
That's all I want to say about the plot as anymore would spoil the movie. I will say that this film is sickeningly graphic and that there is a scene that will make every man watching uncomfortable and a scene that will make every woman watching uncomfortable. It's an equal opportunity offender.
This is one of those movies that has no middle ground; people are either going to absolutely love or absolutely loathe it. I personally love it, but I can see why it's easy to hate. It's frustrating, hard to follow and most of the film is highly open to interpretation. There are multiple themes that can be addressed in this film and that is partly the reason I wanted to write this review. I will now discuss some of the interpretations that various people have garnered for this movie:
INTERPRETATION 1: The Allure/Fear of Nature
This is the interpretation that fascinated me the most. He reacts to their arrival at Eden with anticipation and optimism, whereas She seems absolutely terrified of the place. I find this relevant to humanity's relationship with nature. Fairly recently, humans have developed a sort of attraction to nature and there is definitely a siren song to the natural world. Camping, hiking and other outdoor activities are enjoyed by millions of people. However, throughout most of human history, the forest was a dark, foreboding place; home to monsters, evil spirits and other mysterious dangers. This is evident in the film when the entire natural world seems to regard He and She with utter contempt. At night, their cabin is bombarded with acorns that seem to fall with tremendous force and He and She are attacked by birds and other animals on a regular basis. Even the trees themselves seem to be against our heroes. In Von Trier's world, the forest isn't some comforting sanctuary where people can seek peace and enlightenment. It's a hateful, murderous world.
INTERPRETATION 2: An Inversion of Genesis
This interpretation is probably mentioned the most given the name of their old cabin. The idea is that God hates his creation and rather than protect it, he takes the utmost pleasure in torturing it. This makes a lot of sense given the nature of the Old Testament of the Bible and how God treats the human race throughout. He seems to delight in tormenting human beings and he dishes out punishment for actions that come natural to the human race. He also seems to have an intense hatred towards women and tends to blame them for all the misfortunes of the world. Of course that leads me to my next interpretation which is easily the most controversial of all the interpretations for this film.
INTERPRETATION 3: Women are Evil
This interpretation is the easiest to notice but also the hardest to defend. About halfway through the film, we learn that She has been writing a paper on witch hunts and the misogyny found in Western religions. However, during her research, She comes to the conclusion that women are in fact inherently evil. As She begins to lose her grasp on reality, She begins blaming femininity and female sexuality on all the evil of the world, including the cause of her son's death. Von Trier has been criticized before for his treatment of his female characters, but here I think most critics are missing the point. True, the idea may be that women are the cause of all evil in the world, but consider the source. The Bible minces no words about its treatment of women. From Adam and Eve to Samson and Delilah to John the Baptist, women and more specifically, female sexuality seems to be the cause for most of the problems that befall the heroes of biblical myth. Do I think Von Trier's film is misogynistic? Not exactly. But I do think it is an extreme interpretation of an inherently misogynistic text. Besides, the man is not entirely blameless in this story as well. Which leads me to my final interpretation.
INTERPRETATION 4: Science vs. Nature
Delving further into the religious interpretation of the story, one could almost see He as representing God (order) and She as representing Satan (chaos). To put it in a more secular perspective, He could represent civilization and She nature. He tries desperately to cure She of her depression throughout the course of the film, but She seems to understand that the problem lies within human nature itself. While He tries to control She and the entire world around them, She understands that they are in nature and nature is Satan's domain. In nature, only chaos reigns as described in the film. In this description of the film He comes off as foolish for trying to understand and control that which can't be controlled. She has come to this understanding with nature and the world and as a result, she has completely embraced chaos.
I actually enjoy watching Antichrist with all of these interpretations at the same time. Watching these different themes play against each other at the same time makes the film more interesting in my opinion. However, these are by no means the only way to watch this film. It could be interpreted a hundred other ways. So in conclusion, check this film out. It will leave you frustrated, confused and maybe more than a little sick to your stomach. But if you like that kind of thing, there are few films more rewarding than Lars von Trier's horror masterpiece. It's so indecipherable it takes some critics nearly two years to write a review for it.
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