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  1.  (7535.1)


    "Antichrist" tries to be a complex, surreal experience. Movies like this can often be misleading about their quality -- after all, a bad camera angle or a stupid line of dialogue can simply have a deeper meaning your feeble mind held together with duct tape and spit isn't quite grasping, right? This movie made me feel this way several times. This is not actually a sign of quality.

    The movie tries to dissect humanity and nature, but sabotages itself by failing to have a decent story -- if the characters aren't believable, how is the audience supposed to see them as Trier intends us to: as representations of our species? And in fact, how does he even expect to embody all this into two single characters? Why did he even try, going as far as blurring out the faces of everyone except for the main couple and their baby?

    By turning them into absolute archetypes, Trier establishes he's going to depict humanity through them. This was, of course, doomed to fail because of its tremendous contradiction: while the characters are archetypes, the situation they're experiencing and the situation that caused it are very personal -- and so is their drama. Trier apparently refuses to accept this, so instead of creating interesting, believable characters that could perhaps depict a facet of human nature, he tries to depict human nature as a whole through a man and a woman.

    The Man is rational and calm, with an explanation for everything and a wish to control, feeding on the Woman's suffering, believing he understands it enough to fix it. The Woman is... batshit insane, basically. At one moment she's cold and distant, then she's warm, then she wants sex, then she tortures her husband. But for all his flaws, the Man seeks not only to understand her, but to help her. Despite the self-interest (which, c'mon, is a natural aspect of being human), he truly wants to help her. Meanwhile, the Woman is self-centered, judgmental and has an incredibly incoherent mood.

    This is where the accusations of misogyny start, and I'm afraid Lars Von Trier not only embraces them, he reiterates them as the movie progresses, through the excessive symbolism that is a constant in "Antichrist". Let's break this down:

    Nature is portrayed as evil, constantly trying to hurt them. Falling acorns cause a continuous, unsettling sound on the roof, the Man is tormented by gruesome visions of animals (such as the fox that eats itself) and the very forest is depicted in an oppressive, cruel manner. The Woman fears it deeply, or so the Man initially thinks, but as the movie progresses he realizes she fears not only nature -- she fears herself.

    The Woman is Nature and therefore evil. She says so herself, that she is convinced that all women are inherently evil, something the Man argues against, but is ultimately proved wrong by her and the director himself, who contributes to this point by using symbolic imagery -- such as the tree that seems to be comprised of wood and women's bodies, as if they're one. Not to mention the Man and the Woman are having sex by that tree, and from the angle Trier films it, it looks like the Man is having sex with the entire tree -- which is to say, with Nature.

    There's more symbols that express the exact same point: the three animals seen throughout the film, in the end, all join the Woman in the same frame. And in the epilogue, the Man is seen walking past a part of the woods that seems made organically of women -- and finally, he sees a huge crowd of them walking the woods as one, while he seems like a complete outsider, out of his element.

    This can be taken even further, to a Biblical sense: Nature is the Snake, which corrupts Eve, who corrupts Adam -- in the film, the Woman lost her mind while living in the woods with her son, then she finally corrupts the Man by making him go over the edge and killing her -- causing him to give up his rational behavior and give in to his desire. This symbolism could even work if the Bible wasn't utter bullshit.

    You could say that this does not necessarily mean the movie is misogynystic -- that only this particular woman is evil. But there's no such thing as a "particular woman" in "Antichrist": not only she and the Man are not given names, but all the other actors have their faces blurred. The archetypes are clear and intended. She is a representation of the Woman, which in this film are portrayed as evil, selfish, confused and incoherent.

    (continued in comments)
  2.  (7535.2)
    You could also say that the Man himself isn't good, and therefore that the movie's misogyny is instead misanthropy. But while the man is certainly flawed (as we all are), he is by no means a bad person. He is arrogant and pedantic, but he tries to help his wife, whatever his own reasons may be aside from the wish to see her happy again.

    In fact, he endures her sudden mood swings with all the calm in the world and listens to and considers every single word she says. Even when she is physically violent toward him, he doesn't hit back. He is rational to the point of being cold and brutally honest, but he is not evil. In fact, the movie seems to believe that the act of accepting the Woman's sexual advances instead of resisting them is an evil thing to do -- after all, it was the orgasm that made the woman not care their son was falling from their window. It's like the Man, by feeding her sexual urges (and it's always HER sexual urges, of course), is commiting a terrible sin -- eating the forbidden fruit.

    Throughout the film, the Man attempts to make the woman face her fear of Nature -- which is to say, her own nature. It's like by doing this, the Man unlocks the evil within that the Woman has, and therefore should be to blame as well.

    But what the fuck does this mean? That all women are bombs standing by for the detonator to be triggered by the foolish, curious men? Maybe that this is a symbol of Man's constant search for the meaning of their existence and that the Woman is God, the creator -- or in this case, the Antichrist? So the hole beneath the tree symbolizes the uterus and when the man emerges from it after hiding there, he is reborn -- and like a baby, he is only comprised of Id -- and his Ego, so common in his overly rational behavior, is now gone, allowing him to succumb to his Id and kill his wife and oh God make it stop make it end.

    Apparently this is the true horror of "Antichrist". Having to go through all these questions only to find out the answers are appallingly stupid.

    Even worse, in order to ask those questions, Von Trier sacrifices the story and his characters. If he had dropped all the religious symbolism and pretentious archetypes, and instead had written a story about a couple who lost their son -- it could have been a great film. Instead of being archetypes, each of the two main characters could receive names and be simply facets of the human species, not attempting to represent us as a whole.

    "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" is a wonderful study of human nature and the importance of our memories. And it studies those questions through two likeable, complex protagonists. "Angel Heart" has a narrative that is ambiguous but that makes sense in any way you read it, never sacrificing its plot or characters. And "Antichrist" relies on a story that doesn't make sense protagonized by unlikely characters who distance themselves from humanity by trying to embody it as a whole (since NO human being is capable of embodying all of us) in order to ask questions that have idiotic answers.

    However, it does have its moments and mostly succeeds in atmosphere. Thanks to Anthony Dod Mantle's superb cinematography, the film causes a constant, unsettling feeling, and it's particularly genius, the way he and Trier go from a shaky, nervous camera to a completely still one without changing the angle -- a noticeable change the movie uses to denote its transition into surreality (when the Man is having sex with the Woman by the tree, the nervous camera travels near the Man's hair, then goes completely still and zooms out again in a perfect, smooth movement, revealing the tree made out of wood and women).

    Not only that, but the lack of elegance in the editing contributes to the uneasy tone of "Antichrist", with Trier and Mantle deliberately breaking filmmaking rules. When the Woman is talking to the Man on her hospital bed, the camera cuts back and forth between her face and his, some times without changing the angle they're seen from -- so instead of looking at each other, they seem to be looking at the same direction.

    And while the movie's prologue, shot in super slow motion with still camera angles in black and white, could easily be a pretentious, exaggerated attempt to be visually pleasant, it's actually done very effectively, with some particularly striking moments -- like the angle that shows the kid falling on the snow from far away.

    Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play bad characters extremely well, managing to save them partially, giving them some humanity the audience is capable of relating to now and then. But there's only so much they can do with such a weak script and terrible dialogue. Still, the two performances are exceptional.

    Trier deserves applause for being unflinching in his depiction of sex and violence, never using either for their own sake, but instead to build up the oppressive, cruel atmosphere. The imagery is genuinely disturbing, and it's meant to be. Shame it's not servicing a better script. And what made Trier think the talking fox could cause anything but uproarious laughter?

    "Antichrist" creates a complex web of symbols that ultimately just shows a simplistic view of human nature. It's beautifully-shot and constantly unsettling, but it's shallow and even immature beneath its seemingly complicated surface.
    • CommentTimeJan 8th 2010 edited
    If I were less tired I would respond more fully, but to be honest, Antichrist is not my favorite von Trier film. The more I know about von Trier, though, the less I think he's truly a mysoginist, and I think for this film in particular he embraces misogyny to enhance the provocation of the film.

    See Breaking The Waves and Dancer In The Dark. Those are my favorites of his, though Dogville is also very good.

    edit: And what made Trier think the talking fox could cause anything but uproarious laughter?

    In a theater of ~15 people, me, my girlfriend and my other friend one else did. Fuckin' talking fox!
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2010
    Ah, I haven't seen it but I've heard of the talking fox because a friend of mine worked for Vice magazine and they had an interview with: "the guy who dubbed the fox in Antichrist into Spanish." Now I kinda want to see it just for that. :D