DOUBLE VISION: "Don't Look Now" Vs. "Antichrist"


Note: "Antichrist"’s main characters are unnamed, simply called He and She. In an attempt to eliminate any confusion, any variation of the pronouns ‘he’ or ‘she’ will be capitalized to be able to tell them apart from using the pronouns to refer to John and Laura in "Don’t Look Now" without capitalization. For example, He/Him/His or She/Her/Hers will refer to "Antichrist", while all lowercase pronouns, he/him/his and she/her/his will refer to "Don’t Look Now".

Also: You know this already I’m sure, but SPOILER ALERT for both films and for the "Don’t Look Now" source material. I will be discussing the majority if not all the important plot points in these films extensively because, well, I’m doing that. Why, you might ask? Because I can. These movies are too similar for me to ignore it.
Death and grieving are two tropes that show up in horror films so much that we almost expect it to occur, but few films have been able to capture this feeling as well as Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 magnum opus "Don’t Look Now". Almost forty years after this cult classic horror film was released, Lars von Trier’s psychosexual, as well as psychological, erotic horror drama "Antichrist" polarized critics when it premiered at Cannes, and drew a lot of both praise and criticism for its uncanny similarities to Roeg’s film. While von Trier has never come forward about taking influence from "Don’t Look Now", the resemblances are nearly identical, from the storyline itself right down to the points in time certain events take place.

"Don’t Look Now", which was put on a double bill with pagan horror classic "The Wicker Man" during its original release, is hard to watch but not unbearable, at least not as unbearable as "Antichrist". It sticks with you and puts such a bad taste in your mouth that you just cannot get rid of no matter how hard you try. I feel better about recommending "Don’t Look Now" to people because yes, it has a dark, haunting, depressing tone to it, but it is definitely easier to handle a red-hooded dwarf than up-close genital mutilation. Lars von Trier’s “failed attempt” at a horror film uses stylized shots and slow-motion to make the film all the stranger and bleaker. In other words, "Don’t Look Now" is moderately paced, while "Antichrist" is comparably slow. Nicolas Roeg’s classic film delves into the idea of grieving the death of a child and the turmoil that comes with it, but also makes it more relatable instead of forcing a viewer into an existential panic. There were a lot of emotions when I watched "Antichrist" for the first time after my parents bought me the Criterion release for Christmas (yes, Christmas, my parents bought me a movie called "Antichrist", which they told me later they assumed was about witches, and they were only kind of right), which is almost identical to the feeling I got when I watched "Don’t Look Now" for the first time which is this: intense despair combined with existential dread. "Don’t Look Now" is easily Nicolas Roeg’s darkest film, and it appears on many sources’ lists of greatest movies of all time. I don’t think I can give a reason why I wanted to watch this when I was younger other than the fact that I had heard so much about it and decided it must be worth it. People often ask me how I watched "Antichrist" or any of Lars von Trier’s films more than once. I don’t know the answer to that either.

"Don’t Look Now", based off of the short story of the same name by melancholic British author/playwright Daphne du Maurier, follows John and Laura Baxter (played by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) trying to come to grips with the tragic and accidental drowning of their young daughter Christine in a pond at their home in the English countryside (in the original short story, Christine dies after a bout of meningitis). After John receives a job offer in Venice, the two accept the job to get away from it all. Laura runs into two sisters at a restaurant who are discovered to be psychic. They already know that her feelings of sadness and despair are still fresh. One of the sisters is blind, but can feel Laura’s sadness and makes it known to her. The woman convinces her that they can see Christine with her even though she is no longer living, sending Laura into hysterics. After this encounter, Laura collapses and is hospitalized. Once she comes to and is treated at a hospital, Laura acts as if she is not bothered by the death anymore. John is very confused by this, and becomes skeptical once Laura tells him about the psychic sisters. Meanwhile, John sees a red-hooded figure running through the streets, a person he believes to be Christine. Even though he knows his daughter is dead, he swears he can still see her too. The women invite Laura over to see if they can speak to Christine, and they perform a séance. After the séance, Laura warns John that Christine said that he must leave Venice because he is in great danger. This angers John, and later that night, the couple receives a call telling them that their other child had suffered a head injury while at school. Laura leaves Venice to look after him, but John stays behind to finish his work restoring one of the churches. While on high scaffolding trying to compare mosaic pieces, one side of the lift gives out, and John nearly falls to his death. He remembers that the sisters had predicted this event. Things become stranger when John sees Laura in all black on a boat in a funeral cortege with the sisters, despite watching her leave for England. Shaken, John goes to the police to report that Laura has gone missing. Meanwhile, there is a serial killer on the loose. The inspector becomes suspicious of John and has a private eye follow him around. John searches for Laura and the sisters, and while looking, he sees the figure in the red coat again. John then calls his son’s school to check up on his injured son, and finds out that Laura is still there. Confused, John goes back to the police to call off the search for her, but sees that the blind sister was taken in for questioning during the search. John feels bad about this and takes her back to her hotel room. The woman falls to the floor in a trance. John hurriedly leaves the room. The other sister tries to catch up with him to warn him about his impending doom, but he is already gone. John once again sees the figure in the red coat, and tries to talk to it, thinking it is a small child. The figure turns around and is not a child at all, but a female dwarf, who we are led to believe is the serial killer he was warned about by both the police and the sisters. The dwarf slices John’s throat with a cleaver. John now understands that all of the strange things that happened to him were premonitions about his demise and his funeral. "Don’t Look" Now has a very depressing feel to it, but it also makes use of quick stylized edits to make it pleasing to the eye.

"Antichrist", however, takes the dark, brooding, depressing tone that "Don’t Look Now" has, but makes it more sickening and claustrophobic. This film opens with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who are unnamed in the film, having slo-mo shower sex, completely oblivious to the fact that their toddler has fallen to his death from an open window. After collapsing during the funeral, Gainsbourg’s character, referred to only as She, ends up in a hospital. Dafoe, called He, a therapist himself, does not approve of the care She is getting, so He takes it upon himself to treat Her himself with psychotherapy and hypnosis, as well as exposure therapy. During a hike to a place they call Eden, He sees a doe with a dead fawn dangling from behind it, as it has not been fully born and died in the process. The doe does not appear to be afraid of Him, and this encounter deeply bothers him. Following one of his forced therapy sessions, He sees a fox disemboweling itself in the woods, and the fox gives him an ominous message: “chaos reigns.” It is not long before She devolves into a deep depression that leaves her inconsolable, sadomasochistic, and terribly violent. It is also revealed that She had a habit of putting her son’s shoes on the wrong feet, and a foot deformity was discovered in the autopsy. She is working on a thesis about the treatment of women throughout history, such as witch burnings and other misogynistic acts seen throughout religion and culture. Oddly, She believes that women really are the cause of all evil on Earth, and embraces that thought, while also feeling that she is at fault for the death of their child because they engaged in sexual intercourse; the act of sex and her gender make her feel responsible. After trying to tell Her that their son’s death was not Her fault and that it was just as much His fault as Hers, and more importantly, that gynocide (the ritualistic killing of women and girls) is a disgusting thing, He becomes both cold and protective towards Her and tries to get Her to see reason. His attempts are miserably unsuccessful. So unsuccessful that She ends up taking a wooden block and crushing His erect penis, and drilling a hole into his leg, fingering the wound, and forcing a grindstone into his leg. She eventually punishes herself by severing her clitoris with a pair of scissors, possibly as an act of self-harm or equal treatment, but also to symbolize her rejection and disenchantment of womanhood.

There are more similarities between "Don’t Look Now" and "Antichrist" than there are differences, but they both work together in an interesting way. To start, both deaths of the children occur within the first ten minutes of the film; the only difference is the way these children die. While He and She are unaware of their son’s fate until it is too late in "Antichrist", John Baxter has the sinking feeling that something bad has happened to Christine, a foreshadowing that John is also gifted with “the second sight” like the sisters were. Soon after these deaths, both grieving mothers experience fainting spells, and their mental health is in shambles. As mentioned earlier, Laura seems to feel everything all at once after her encounter with the psychic sisters in "Don’t Look Now". After she faints when she makes it back to the dinner table, Laura collapses, and John calls an ambulance boat for her. After she recovers unexpectedly quickly and her emotions take a total turn from lethargic to lively, John, although happy to see his wife in good spirits again, is worried about this. In "Antichrist", an expressionless She falls to the ground during her son’s funeral procession. We then see Her in a hospital bed, with Him by Her side. When She wakes up, however, She does not in any way feel better, nor has She accepted that Her son is dead. She becomes deeply depressed, so much so that it appears that She cannot function on Her own without Him there.

Similarly though, both male protagonists seem to be skeptical of how their wives are coping with the loss of their young children. John, an atheist church restorer, does not approve of how close Laura has become with these two women she met only once before. John eventually allows Laura to see these women because deep down, he knows that this allowing her some closure, and while he might not agree with what they say or what they are doing, Laura is getting the help she needs that John might not be able to give to her. For Him, however, She is not being treated for her depression and anxiety correctly, but instead is being prescribed too much medication, which is making Her feel worse. After making it back to their apartment, He takes it upon himself to treat Her himself using his own methods, which ultimately leads to His downfall in the end, proving in a sick sort of way that you shouldn’t ever treat someone you are close to. He even jokes about this while in bed with Her. “Don’t fuck your therapist.”

It can be argued that while both She and Laura are using outlets to cope that can be seen as concerning, only She becomes completely unhinged and destructive. She is terribly violent, having panic attacks and displaying suicidal tendencies. She makes it known to Him that she is in extreme emotional distress, and He explains to Her that grief is a painful thing, and that what she is feeling is normal. He tells her that these things happen in phases; her emotions are indicators that she is moving through these phases. In the first chapter of the film, She dumps her medication down the toilet as He watches. We next see her shivering, sweating, and panting as she stumbles into the bathroom for a glass of water before falling to the ground and smashing her head on the toilet bowl. She forces sex on him as an escape or distraction, and He enables her on multiple occasions, knowing full well that is not a good idea. For Laura, she did not hurt anybody by finding closure in the way she did; her only flaw is that she is naïve in her grieving.

It can also be argued here that John is a more loving husband in "Don’t Look Now" than He is to She, because there are no signs of wanting to control her life and her choices; all John wants to do is make sure Laura is happy and healthy. In "Antichrist", He does not fit this description due to the fact that He forces She into things that She is clearly not mentally, emotionally, or physically ready for, such as hypnosis, trying to get her to attach a reason behind why she feels the way She does, and even goes as far to force Her to be exposed to what bothers Her the most. While He might be concerned about Her well-being, He does not do it in a way that would translate as love, but rather as annoyance or control. By enabling Her in accepting her forceful sexual advances to calm her down, or by convincing her to not take her medication anymore, He is able to restrict Her in all the ways he thinks He needs to in order for Her to become healthy again, or, as I saw it, for His own personal gain. I would argue that He is 100% responsible for Her retaliation against Him simply because He was not treating Her like a wife like John treats Laura in "Don’t Look Now", but rather as a patient and nothing beyond that, despite all of the weird, depressing, unhealthy sex they engage in. Sex between these two couples in "Don’t Look Now" and "Antichrist" brings me to another point, one that I will get into later on.

In addition to this, both men are disillusioned fathers who either have come to terms with the death somewhat normally or is completely ignoring it while still being confused about what is reality and what is fantasy. For John, he is still very much grieving. When Laura refers to their daughter as still being with them, John feels as though he needs to confirm it both to Laura and himself that she is dead, and that nothing will bring her back. It’s almost as though John needs to keep reminding himself of this, because he keeps seeing the figure in the red coat that looks exactly like the one Christine was wearing when she died. These sightings only confuse him and make him nervous. John could also be using his work as a distraction from the loss just as He might be using psychotherapy on Her as a distraction from his own grief. In "Antichrist" though, He doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the death as he is the way his wife is reacting to what has happened. He only cries once, which is during the funeral procession, and gets defensive when She brings it up like He doesn’t even want to think about what happened. He just doesn’t want to be reminded about it.

Both couples go on a “vacation” that has turned into a nightmare for them, revealing harrowing details about things they might not have noticed before, and while at their destinations, the male protagonists in both films experience hallucinations of some sort or are seeing things that might not actually be there, and begin to question reality, so much so that it kills them. John and Laura jump on the opportunity to go to Venice as they feel like it will do them some good, but John’s sightings and Laura’s encounters with the psychic sisters cause them more harm than good, and it leads to John’s murder. For Him, getting Her to come to Eden with him to face her fears head on causes even more harm to them, and He retaliates after the incident with the wooden block, the grindstone, the scissors, and being buried alive. Once She tells him that She won’t kill him yet, He kills Her first, strangling her and setting her on fire. In the first act of "Don’t Look Now", it isn’t really made clear if the figure in the red coat actually exists almost until the end of the film. In "Antichrist", He sees disturbing things in the woods that seem too bizarre to actually occur or if he actually saw what he thinks he did, the doe with the stillborn fawn hanging out of her, or the “chaos reigns” fox pulling out its own intestines.

In "Don’t Look Now" and "Antichrist", three out of the four protagonists, John, He, and She, have skewed opinions on religion, either criticizing it or rejecting it completely. John is not fond of the idea of Christianity, even though his job involves restoring old churches. He comments on this throughout the film, and while it’s not malicious in nature, it’s still interesting. After coming across Her masterwork in the attic, He questions what caused Her to feel so strongly that women are the cause of Evil itself. She also mentions that nature is Satan’s church, causing Him to wonder if Satan is what She is really afraid of. She studied these things extensively in her works, and He cannot grasp what made Her change her mind about gynocide as a whole; she at first rejected it, now she is embracing it. The name of the cabin they are staying in is Eden, is the opposite of what it represents in the Christian faith. In the Bible, Eden is described as a paradise, but the cabin is full of grief, despair, and pain, the three things that She says are coming and that someone must die when the three beggars get there.

"Antichrist" and "Don’t Look Now" also feature the influence of supernatural forces. The three beggars in "Antichrist" appear to Him as the disemboweled fox, the doe with the still- attached fawn, and a crow that She had buried alive, symbolizing grief, despair, and pain as She explained. In addition to this, It is also known that women that were suspected of being witches had the power to conjure intense hailstorms. In "Don’t Look Now", the supernatural forces are the two sisters, who have successfully reached Christiane from beyond the grave (or behind the grave, as John says in the film. . .this might be a mistake, I can’t tell which) and have been able to speak to her. Laura appears to be happy about this, but John doesn’t believe her until it is way too late, when the dwarf in the red coat kills him. This might also have to do with his atheism and Laura’s curiosity mentioned earlier.

Last but certainly not least, both films feature intense sex scenes that are still analyzed and discussed to this day, one being widely disputed as real while the other is real. John and Laura have acrobatic, passionate sex after she is discharged from the hospital. This scene is meant to show that they are both still in love with each other. Even though a horrible tragedy has caused significant emotional distress between the two of them, there is no indication that Laura wants to harm John, or vice versa. This scene was so explicit for its time that a rumor spread for decades that swore that Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie had unsimulated sex during the filming of the scene. Some people who worked on the film said they saw the coitus happen, while Donald Sutherland himself said that the sex was simulated. As is typical with Lars von Trier films, the sex scenes in "Antichrist" have an even weirder history. Legend has it that Willem Dafoe’s penis is so big, that the production crew decided to use a prosthetic penis for the block squishing and blood ejaculation scenes. Weird, right? Who would have thought the Green Goblin was so well endowed? Are you afraid of Willem Dafoe? I sure am.

To make a long story short, whether it was intentional or not, Lars von Trier’s "Antichrist" owes a lot to Nicolas Roeg’s "Don’t Look Now" due to its nearly identical themes and motifs. While these similarities are hard to ignore, it is also important to discuss how different these films are as well. Death and grieving is one of the most common tropes found in the psychological horror genre, and "Don’t Look Now" and "Antichrist" are at either side of the spectrum: Roeg’s film is stylized with the use of reds and greens as well as odd editing styles, while von Trier’s film is significantly less colorful and more bleak with his trademark slow- motion sequences. As I mentioned earlier, "Don’t Look Now" is easier to take in than "Antichrist", but not by a whole lot. "Antichrist" doesn’t feature creepy red-hooded dwarves, but "Don’t Look Now" doesn’t feature genital mutilation. Take your pick.