Anti-Christ (Lars von Trier, 2009)

“Chaos reigns”

Introduction

Does it need one? I mean, really? A title like Anti-Christ clearly provokes the viewer. Before I continue, its worth noting that this is the first [mock me indeed] Lars Von Trier film I have seen. I question whether it is a fair representation of him as a director … but it is nevertheless my first. Not seen Dogville or Mandalay or (apparently a friends favourite ever film – Rachel) Dancer in the Dark. So, with no frame of reference, I rely on what I read to assist in my understanding of such a film. But as it is such an explicit and excessive film, with such, almost obsessive, links to raw emotion it inevitably is inspired by a very personal stance of Von Trier himself, rather than something attempting to top previous films. According to Catherine Wheatley [S&S, August 2009], he wrote this “during a period of severe depression”, which backs up the exceptionally personal nature of this film. He was raised by atheist parents and feels that “Religion is a nasty business”, while not being “a believer”, but using the description of “a poor christian” to describe himself.

From what I know, the theme of “long-suffering women at the hands of a manipulative man” (Empire, August 2009) is something that appears often in von Triers work so it clearly links with his previous works – going against my assumption it may be on its own. So, I’m sure the more I watch other von Trier films, the more I will realise how apt this film is … but I doubt I will re watch this film again, and that says nothing about the well-executed, scenic and spooky nature of the film, it just says what type of film I prefer to watch. Turns out, analysis of grief and suffering though extreme torture and sexual pain – inflicted on both sexes – is not my bag.

What I reckon …

I’m going to praise the film. The first thing I told Jo as we left the cinema was that there was clearly nothing in the film unintended. Jo felt that it might have dragged in the middle a little bit, which I counter-argued, questioning whether there was anything that should have been taken out of it to speed it up – he, and I, didn’t know. Everything was exceptionally framed, lit and planned and prepared. ‘Well-executed’ does not give the film justice, but it is what it is. If you want to explore the stages of mourning (lets list the stuff it tackles) -of death, suffering, pain, despair, sex, masculinity, femininity, good and evil, religion, Satan – censorship merely hides the truth of such emotions, effectively not giving the topics justice. The sense of destruction of oneself, of a fear of nature in man, whereby you want the audience to experience, to some extent, the horror of evil-nature, of destruction, you cannot expect to shy away from the explicit nature of such a theme.

For one, its not gratuitous – its not an exploitation film, it is an art form and respects these boundaries. This might be a shallow point to raise on something which, to be honest, the majority of film-goers, don’t expect the latest Saw installment to be directed by Lars Von Trier. This is not that type of horror – it is psychological, personal and considerate of the audience. The scenes of horror we do see are planned, prepared and controlled. We begin with a prologue, showing the death of Nick – the child of ‘his’ (Dafoe) and ‘her’s (Gainsborough) child. The child falls out of a window while the two have sex in the shower. The whole experience is shot in black and white with the Phantom Camera that captures the drops of water from the shower and snow from the sky so carefully it forces you to see every slight movement as a separate art piece unto itself (though the clerk who cleared my tickets said it reminded him of a Marks and Sparks advert … hmmm …). Every sequence is introduced by ‘Epilogue’, ‘Chapter 1’ etc, painted by an abstract artist by the name of Per Kirkeby – emphasizing that it is first and foremost a work of Art, and not all art is something you put up on your wall (or in this case, own on DVD).

Interestingly, I have recently watched Herzog’s Grizzly Man, whereby one part Herzog disagrees with Treadwell (the tragic victim of the bears) was how Treadwell ignored the horror and destructiveness of nature. The ‘chaos’ and lack of ‘harmony’ in nature is what Herzog strongly believes in – and clearly this horror is the spine of Anti-Christ, and what von Trier also believes.

Going against what I stated earlier – about the film being what the director intended – there was one part which, though Jo and I sat quietly though, the whole cinema burst into laughter. Dafoe, in the process of coaching his wife through the mourning process, stumbles across animals, mothers in most cases, having killed their young: a deer with the semi-born fawn hanging out of the deer itself, etc. In one case he sees a fox, that appears to eat its own womb, look to him and speak: “Chaos Reigns”. Apparently, there is a sense of irony in von Triers work (something I missed completely in this) and maybe this is an example of that, but it broke down the amount of involvement the audience had with the film up to this point. Was that a flaw in von Triers film? I would have to ask if laughter was what he expected from that section … then again, I imagine von Trier does not expect anything from his audience, making the film for the sake of art itself.

The film finishes as Dafoe walks down the hill – having been tortured, pierced by a sharp implement, crawling into a cave, whereby the rock fell to shut it, then – you could say – he was ‘resurrected’ and manages to walk away. Remind you of anyone? Dafoe played the role himself too! Nevertheless, as he walks away, he walks past a mass of women walking up a hill. I imagine this relates to the evil woman he has just killed, does not link with all the other women with no evil desires. One interesting choice of word is exceptionally interesting. Dafoe’s character is attempting to work out what Gainsborough fears – and by tackling the fear – she can move past this point of grieving. He considers that her fear is ‘nature’ (which to some extent it is) but crosses it out, writing ‘Satan’ (which to some extent it is), and then – upon realising that she was purposefully placing the wrong shoes on her sons feet (to the point that he had a deformity in his feet recognised on the autopsy) its not a completely impossible assumption that she was content with letting her son kill himself (which, in flashbacks, we see was the case). He crosses out her fear of ‘Satan’, realising what she truly fears is “Me”, before smashing Dafoe round the back of the head, knocking him to the ground. My automatic assumption was that it is her definition of herself – labelled as “Me” – that was what he felt she feared. Clarifying the hatred she began to believe following her research into witches and ‘evil-women’ she researched when last in Eden, that she now believed she was. But, she hated and despised Dafoe too – so the choice of word “Me”, verbalised by Dafoe himself, might imply that to some extent she feared him. Throughout the film she resents him and his arrogance and pride – and his psychiatrist-mode and therapeutic measures do nothing to change this opinion. Thus she attempts to destroy him, who she believes is some sort of Satan – natures man. Just an interesting side point.

Nevertheless, the non-innocent part in her child’s death voids all the progress and therapy her husband attempts to ‘help her’ with. She thinks she is to blame, he tells her she is not. But he is wrong, because she is to blame. She is actually evil, akin to the witch women she researched when in Eden previously. Dafoe constantly tries to help her, but his self-satisfied attitude hinders any progress – she does tell him that it is recommended that patients must never be your partner, and yet he thinks he is better than that and this is the consequence, confirming her belief in his god-like attitude: controlling, creating (“I’m going to teach you to breath” – can he give her life?), etc.

Food for thought I think. I’ll stop going over all of it – because there are bound to be bits which are completely wrong. Oh, before the conclusion – Art references, Hieronymous Bosch and all the bodies in the woods, naked and in foetus position. William Blake in the tone and portrayal of a Satanic-like presence. And, I considered not saying it, but the yellow jacket of Gainsborough, the sitting on the porch of a victorian-ish, old cabin did remind me of The Village … I’m sorry, it did, and all you Shyamalan haters will hate the comparison.

It is a dark-subject, and the raw emotions it explores require visceral, vivid detail to relate the horror and pain to the audience but I question whether this is the type of thing I personally enjoy and, to push this further, I am dubious about the audience members who ‘enjoyed’ (is that the right word?) the film, people who will buy and, akin to me watching my favourite film many times, they would do the same with Anti-Christ. Surely if, genital mutilation and destruction is what you want from a film then there must be deep-rooted issues you have not faced. By extension, maybe this means that i do not condone such a film. The irony is, as a fan of the torture-porn genre (to some extent, by no means a professional) I feel like the completely OTT horror, fairground-ride nature of, say, the Saw films, somehow makes the films that much more palatable. So, when guy saws his foot off – you know its a prop, you know its fun and games and then you can laugh about it afterwards. While, with Anti-Christ I was so engrossed with the actors and the story itself that by the time we see her visual destruction o her femininity, I literally could not watch and had to quickly turn as the scissors cut. Jo said he forced himself to watch it – and that was what was expected of me, I guess. We don’t make films so people turn away at the first opportunity of horror. It’s a cheap shot comparing Saw with Anti-Christ – and I do apologise for it. I do not compare the acting, the directing, the cinematography – in fact anything and everything structurally is hugely superior in Anti-Christ. I merely discuss the nature of censorship and violence in cinema – fact is, nothing like this appeared before 2000. Apparently Irreversible raises the same type of concerns… and, as I said, I hope I never see this film again. But Irreversible is highly acclaimed …

After-thought

Listening to a radio interview on The Guardian podcast and Lars von Trier gives a great analogy – that he also stated at a press conference, possibly in Cannes – whereby he does not feel any need to justify his work, let alone justification of himself. He states how, as an artist, he has created something that you are a guest to – a party, however sick, – that you are invited to. The invite in and of itself is not a bad thing, so – in that sense – I assume he intends to state that, therefore, the justification in his actions are unneccessary. Interesting point.

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3 comments

  1. Again a couple of swift points to defend/justify myself.

    Firstly I think the middle portion is quite different in terms of artistry to the beginning and end. The prologue is a beautiful few minutes, perfectly framed and shot, crisp images and a flowing piece of music. When they're in Eden nature is presented as full of colour and intriguing imagery which really holds the attention, however unplesant it may be. However when they are at home I personally found the action quite slow and occasionally irrelevant although I do hesitate to use the world boring. It was quite repetitive and there seemed a surprising lack of imagination or style. They argued, had some rough sex, spoke patronisingly (Dafoe) or unpleasantly (Gainsborough) to each other and didn't make much progress. Once outside the confines of the flat Lars let the darkness in his head loose.

    Also people did laugh at the fox and I think we agreed afterwards it was kinda funny (von Trier you so crazy) but also there was someone crying at one point (before THAT point) who left the cinema. Personally I was surprised by how many people had decided to watch it, bearing in mind that this was a couple of weeks into the release of an 18 certificate film which has a poster featuring a couple having sex in a tree and had been booed in Cannes. Well played marketing men. Suffice to say it strikes me as an experience which you need to decide to take rather than be taken to on 'date night'.

    I'm glad I decided to see it but you're damn right it's not one I'll be rushing to see again. A couple of incredible performances that had me on the edge of my seat thanks to a nasty mix of mystery and horror. Also I think evil is the wrong word to use to describe Her. I thought the character was confused and unsure about how to deal with certain aspects of being a woman which lead her to behave in an incredibly irrational way. The shoes stuff was brillantly subtle given a lot of the rest of it was like we were being hit with a block of wood. Also many thanks for outing my ability for watching graphic acts of self mutilation to the world.

  2. This is a great review! I'm happy to hear it's not exploitative, I was worried about that the most. From what I've heard, this isn't great cinema, but thought-provoking nonetheless.

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