Saturday, November 21, 2009
Antichrist, where do I begin? If you travel in film circles, you've undoubtedly heard of Lars von Trier's 2009 film starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainesbourg as grieving parents struggling to come to terms with the death of their son. Since premiering at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, the word of mouth, for better or worse, for this film has been all-encompassing. This buzz has less to do with the themes of the film and more to do with its INSANE 3rd act that throws all humanity to the wind.
Let's first address the film on its artistic merits. It is impeccably shot, melding super slo-mo scenes and black and white clips to establish an eerie grace and beauty in otherwise horrific scenes. The use of sound in this film is also exceptional, using something as simple as acorns rolling down a rooftop or a steady rain to elicit the paranoia and anxiety that one can feel in an unfamiliar, exposed environment.
The story of the film is simple. A couple loses their son in a terrible accident that they may or may not have been able to stop. The grief-stricken wife is nurtured by her psychiatrist husband who dismisses all medical treatment or mourning, instead forcing her to confront her fear of the woods at a time when she is at her most emotionally vulnerable. She resists, and slowly spirals into savage insanity. Dafoe's character is emotionless and sterile, treating his wife like a patient and addressing her as such and never allowing himself to engage in the grieving process with his wife. He pressures his wife to embrace aspects of nature she fears, while at the same time resisting her own. Needless to say, they come out anyway.
This is the overarching theme of this film. The pitfalls that arise from trying to harness and conquer nature, both tangible and within yourself. Several scenes depict terrifying events that occur in nature thousands of times a day, and the characters are aghast. Baby birds preyed upon by hawks, a partially-birthed stillborn fawn, a fox eating itself. All of these images underscore the emotionless rule of nature. Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, prey or be preyed upon. The characters project emotion and despair upon a world that knows none, and are consumed by it to equal and opposite measures. By rebuffing and challenging nature, the characters are denying a part of themselves. While this may be possible in a civilized society, this is foolhardy behavior to ascribe to a place in which only chaos reigns.
There are certainly more complex biblical, sexual, psychological themes here, but these are underdeveloped and in large part supplements to the thematic core of the film.