Anti-Christ (2009)Directed By Lars Von Trier
Almost everything that can be said about Anti-Christ has been said by Karl Leschinsky at Movies Are My Religion, in a blow by cringe inducing blow of each chapter of the film, and the voluminous critical responses as well the opinions of the actors and director. Otherwise to begin at the beginning we observe a couple have slow motion sex in black and white (a scene which violates every Dogma 95 rule in one fowl swoop), in the shower, in the bed, from the wall to the windows. It’s from such a window their newborn falls out of like the apple from the Tree of Knowledge mentioned in the Book Of Genesis. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play said couple, though the genitals on display during this scene are porn actors from Von Trier’s old defunct porn production company. Gainsbourg is so depressed after the death of their son she has to be hospitalized. Dafoe is a therapist who believes the younger psychiatrist assisting his wife is inexperienced, and since certainly no one knows his wife better than he does, he should handle her treatment. Though it’s widely said that you should never psycho-analyze anyone your intimate with, well Dafoe knows best. These early scenes are shot in an inky blackness, where most of the screen and reality itself is obscured by shadows in their apartment. They are in darkness as soon as the “healing” begins, and once they come out into the light of day things get worse. Gainsbourg wants sex to feel anything besides the nothingness of her depression, but Dafoe plays hard to get because as he says and later conveniently forgets “you shouldn’t have sex with your therapist”. They decide to take the healing process to the next level, when Gainsbourg confesses to being terrified of the forest she vacationed in with their son the summer before Dafoe decides it’s the perfect place for a picnic. On the way to the woods, after dumping her medication in the toilet, he gives her a post-hypnotic suggestion, that she should become “one with the green” she was afraid of, an act which seals both their fates.Though it’s implied later that she may have been disintegrating mentally well before her son’s death, for my money, it’s the moment on the train that most firmly roots her in madness, asking her to identify with what she considers absolute evil, pain, and torment. What follows is more “therapy” were blades of grass become like a psychological iron maiden, the falling leaves turn to symbols of all encompassing death and decay, and that’s not to mention the half aborted deer, undying crows, and the now legendary talking foxes. Lars Von Trier said he watched and enjoyed “The Ring” and “Saw” before attempting to make his own modern horror film. The inky surrealism in “The Ring” and the “torture-porn” of “Saw” are both major influences for what follows. Von Trier’s signature theme of an idealist undone by his own hubris also remains intact and perhaps what is most horrifying about the films is that Defoe really is only trying to help. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The title itself is a play on words of an earlier Dafoe film “The Last Temptation Of Christ” were he played another guy who was just trying to help. Von Trier initially wanted to make a movie where in the end we would learn the Devil not God had created the Earth, but a producer spilled the beans early so VT had to go back to the drawing board, and decided to present us with this allegory for the psycho-analytic process, mixing in his interest in Catholicism with his much disclosed “fear of women” and “fear of everything except cinema”. The director also admits he identifies personally with Gainsbourg more than Dafoe, but this and many other reviews not withstanding, I don’t think the film is as anti-psychology as we’ve been told. After a particularly symbolic dream Dafoe tells his wife about, she responds “but I thought dreams had no significance to modern psychology. Freud is dead remember?” What follows is ironically some Freudian castration and very literal battle of the sexes. The imagery is muddled but it’s apparent that Dafoe is ultimately “to blame” for the episodes at Eden. However, what went on there the summer before, where Gainsborug was hearing the voice of a mysterious child, tied her sons shoes on backwards (to the point of deformity), and started a collage of female torture and mutilation, points to far deeper problems than Defoe can be held accountable for. There's just something about Charlotte.Jim Emerson (who is not a fan of the film) argues a major flaw in the film is the sound, that when Gainsbourg hears this strange voice it’s too prominent in the sound mix when it should be like a whisper barely audible from somewhere far off. I feel the sound so close because it is not coming from far off or from outside, but coming from within the character, so obnoxiously loud it couldn’t be from anywhere else. Some people believe there is nothing at all intentionally comical in the film, but am I the only one who picked on Defoe’s particular tortured predicament; “the old ball and chain?” Not to mention the undying crow, who squawks louder the more you more punish it. The crow is a good metaphor for repression; buried underground, and the more you try to smother it the louder it gets. Nonetheless any time a man is fighting an animal, especially one far smaller than himself, you can expect chuckles. It’s one of the unwavering laws of the comedy universe examplified in Monty Python And The Holy Grail’s “Rabbit of Caerbannog”. “Look at the bones man! Look at he bones!” Its very easy to call a film misogynistic when it does most of the work for you, having the character titled in the credits as "She" writing a book called “Gynocide” about the oppression of women over the centuries (the burning of witches, dowry death, honor killings, murder by husband etc.), who comes to believe women are evil because nature is evil and women are nature (“become the green"), and subsequently mutilates her own vagina. The movie is about the fear of women and the symbolic transference of women as symbols of nature, the unfathomable unconscious, and the irrational "creative" impulse, taken to a caricatured extreme. It explicitly shines a light at itself and the gender pre-occupations that many other films treat as the "natural" way of things.All this after her husband treats as her a hysterical prop in his greatest moment of therapeutic accomplishment. He deals with his grief by attempting to smother out his wife’s grief; controlling her emotions is controlling his own, and naturally he can't. There has not been a psychological horror film of this caliber (at least not in America) since Stanley Kubrik’s “The Shinning”. Like Kubrik’s film Anti-Chirst flirts with the supernatural, but uses it mainly to unmask a crumbling patriarchy. Also like Kubrik’s film the non-sequiturs are most haunting; a talking fox in the bush is worth two mangled labia’s in the hand. Anti-Christ is not Von Trier’s best film, nor is it my favorite work of his, or my favorite horror film even of the decade. It’s a very good horror film though, one of the most interesting I’ve seen in years, but over-hyped to say the least.Another of it’s seeming non-sequiturs is the film being dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky. Though Von Trier doesn’t mimic Tarkovsky directly his trademarks of a stylistically daring, spiritually fascinated, and personal cinema is evident in the film as well as most his work thus far so it's more fair than the enfant terrible middle finger to the "high art" film establishment as it's been claimed.A startling visually captivating and intensely performed film worth seeing, arguing about, and quoting (why "chaos reigns" may end up being this years "Hot"), yet neither the masterpiece nor the abomination is it is bieng built up to be. On my way to watching the film I crossed a dead cat in the center of the sidewalk, not to off to the side but in the walkway, and not a fresh corpse either, but with exposed organs and bone and teeming with insect life. I wondered how long it must have been there (it had to have been days if not weeks) and why no one had bothered to at least move it to the side of the path. It was a good omen of the experiences to follow, as well as central image for what watching the film was like. Anti-Christ does not show the devil creating the world, instead it shows people making a Hell of each other lives. A Hell I imagine for the director and many others is much more horrifying prospect than anything the devil could dream up.