…Von Trier

Antichrist (2009) Dir. Lars Von Trier

A boring, incoherent story that left me emotionally indifferent.

The movie opens with a beautiful black-and-white sequence, in which the main characters, the nameless She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and He (Willem Dafoe), are having sex. At the same time, their little son, Nic, climbs up a window and falls to his death. Those few brief scenes compose the best part of the entire movie. The camera presents the perfect unity of their bodies. The music is touching and n-sync with their lovemaking. Deep emotions and excitement fill their faces. And the boy’s death adds dramatic depth and intensity. The sequence mesmerizes and gives us false hope for a deep and beautiful story.

The movie is divided into three parts, and it presents the story from two perspectives. The husband’s perspective dominates in the first half, where he tries to help the wife go through her mourning. He seems to distance himself from their tragedy, and takes on a role of her psychotherapist. He explains the stages of her mourning and asks her what she fears the most – the answer being the solution to her pain. The camera becomes the therapist’s eye, studying their faces for emotions. He plays the role of her guide, behaving like he found a secret formula for coping with grief, pain, and despair – the names of the three parts. At the same time, he seems detached and unconvincing in his therapy. Even the tone of his voice sounds artificial. His emotional restrain serves as a background for her contrasting behavior: she sobs, she panics, she despairs.

She is by far more interesting than him because she changes and she gives the rhythm to the story, which changes along with her. Thanks to an amazing performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg, we believe in her pain, her tears, her guilt. She smoothly goes from blaming herself for her son’s death to heartbreaking sobs to anxiety attacks. She makes it dramatic and captivating, but not over the top. When she goes to their cottage in the woods symbolically called Eden, she takes over the control. She seems to know a lot about Nature as if she was connected with the place itself. She gets over her mourning in an unnaturally short time, basically overnight. It disturbs him because he no longer controls the situation. Finally, she becomes pure evil and turns against him. Their story starts with sex and death, and ends with mutilation and violence – in both cases, she initiates both, she sets things in motion until they’re beyond control and reason.

The role of Nature remains a mystery. On the one hand, it signifies Satan, chaos, and all the evil forces. On the other, it projects all her feelings. Every time she sleeps or dreams, strange events happen: the hail, the falling trees, the three animals showing up out of the blue. Even those animals become strange because they are presented in a disturbing and unwelcoming fashion: a doe during a miscarriage, a fox tearing up its own flesh. There is nothing familiar about Nature. It’s far from the protective Mother Nature. Instead, it’s full of blood, flesh, death.

As for the violence, it confuses rather than explains. There’s no reasonable explanation for what she does to him and herself. His intentions are quite clear since the beginning: he’s trying to guide her through her mourning. As for her, we don’t know what she really wants. Is Von Trier telling us she’s pure evil as all women are according to her own theory? We even have a suggestion that she’s responsible for her son’s death, though not directly. The story merely shows us their actions, not intentions. It ends with a conclusion for what happened, not why it happened. It becomes confusing, boring, and disappointing.

Von Trier knows how to touch the subject of grief and pain, but can’t go any deeper with it. He exchanges emotions for physical violence. We care only as long as the couple discusses what she feels after the son’s death. Once they go to Eden, their conversations become banal and the story superficial. It leaves us with no afterthoughts, no desire to watch it again. It falls short in evoking any extreme emotions in us. Instead, I recommend watching Von Trier’s Melancholia. It supersedes Antichrist in every respect.

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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