I am not sure I really wanted to watch Antichrist. I like Lars von Trier a lot so the kernel of my desire was more wanting to engage in a conversation with him, to see what he had to say after a few years away from us (a few years of illness). I did not dislike the premise of the film, but the fact that I was so certainly going to suffer in my comfortable theatre seat filled me with dread.
And suffer I did, because it is all too painfully close to the human bone, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, at the same time. In the post film chat I had with my marvelous company, we ascertained that this was a film that, if you wanted to survive, you had to put into play a defense mechanism: it could range from an overwhelming focus on the beauty of the images, the repeat telling that this is a film, vexed rejection (like many critics at Cannes, with their Misogynistic nightmares, seem to have done), the repeated exclamations of the words ‘oh Christ!’ (like the 70 odd man next to me demonstrated) or noisy crisp packets, to name but a few… Mine was, of course, psychoanalysis. Lars von Trier handed it to be in an easy to grasp silver tray.
Apparently his therapist hated the film. No wonder. Dafoe’s character, the therapist, seems to break all the rules of therapy in his desperate descent into chaos (and chaos reigns) following the death of his son. I rooted for him but I understood the self destruction of both he and she. It had an unstoppable force and I believe that, were I in the same situation, I would act a little like both: irrational (read psychotic), like Charlotte Gainsbourg; detached (read psychotic) like Willem Dafoe. The depths they have reached have no space for logic or caring. It was a matter of seeing who would survive. No possible pact of death would have been credible because this is human nature at war, in conflict with itself, with what it is (narrowed down in the film to evil and not-evil, I did not see much good). The conflict is, of course, resolved, in what I considered an elegant way, although it had a whiff of Lars vonTrier’s own defense mechanism. I am pretty sure than even he needed one to get through it and the Calvin Klein advert-like stylization of the prologue and epilogue could not mean anything else.
I want to leave something very clear, here: this is in no way a misogynistic film. Any reference to gender is purely circumstantial, natural, if you want, and represented in the body. It is the way it is, and there is no comment or ideological stance. When there is sexual relation, it is only to show the Lacanian maxim that ‘there is no sexual relation’. And yes, there is genital mutilation and some violence, but all placed where they need to be, as the freakish outcome of the situation the characters have put themselves in. If grief stricken, a (not very close) couple retire to Eden (Tarkovski’s Zone?), miles away from any civilising process that may help them get out of themselves, and, the house is situated underneath an oak tree filled with acorns which, constantly falling, must creep and deprive of sleep and in the attic of the house there are the vestiges of She’s thesis on the persecution of witches (and PhDs can be very obsessive), what would you expect?
There is also what the film calls evil, and which I would question as such (but that may need more thinking and reading, and re-watching on my part, if I ever find myself re-watching Antichrist). Above all, there’s plenty of what is at Lars von Trier’s film making core, as shown in ‘The Idiots’, ‘The 5 obstructions’ and ‘Dogville’ amongst others: a fascination of a human being for other human beings and their desire.
For fuller critiques, including clever breakdowns of the film and analyses of Lars vonTrier from the perspective of a film maker, you should read: