Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Short Review: Antichrist (Lars Von Trier, 2009)

Caution: this film may offend! Lars Von Trier's Antichrist is one of the most unsettling cinematic experiences you will ever put yourself through. Sure to remain with you for days after, the renowned Danish director demolishes all boundaries and has created a most haunting portrayal of the irrational nature of humanity. Recognisably, Antichrist is dedicated to the late Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, with the film's artistic execution heavily praised. The key thematic qualities of the film, on the other hand, have been met with hostile criticism.

Following the tragic death of their son, a grieving unnamed couple attempt to return to their normal lives. The wife (an astonishing performance from Charlotte Gainsbourg) is struggling to cope with the loss and the subsequent failure of medical treatments force her psychiatrist husband (Willem Dafoe, also outstanding) to try and cure her anxiety with his own radical methods. The man delves into her deepest fears in an attempt to make her realise that these can be confronted and beaten, in the hope that they can move on with their lives. The woman reveals that her darkest fears lie dormant in the woods of Eden, where the couple own a secluded cabin. At limits with her volatile behaviour, they seek refuge there, and he begins to conduct a series of activities designed to confront her with her fears.

The audience is first lead to believe that the physical nature of the woods will pose as the primary threat (as Satan's Church), and it's her exposure to this environment that provokes her fears. You might think that this will be a typical 'alone-in-the-woods' horror film, and the film is certainly endowed with the horror conventions to become such a film. Antichrist reveals that the internal soul of human nature can prove to be far more horrifying and dangerous than any exterior threat. During the period in the woods the man has three encounters with animals (a deer, a fox and a crow), which are represented as 'The Three Beggars" and symbolic of the different stages of the Satanic process of grieving where 'chaos reigns' once the individual passes through them all.

He discovers that she had previously mistreated their son, on their last visit to the cabin, and that she likely fears what she is capable of herself, above all else. The research she conducted for her thesis on the violence towards women in the 16th Century forces her into a state of disillusionment, where she views all women subjected to the violence of men as evil and seeks to punish herself for her past mistreatment and subsequent failure to save her son from his death. The woman begins to manifest increasingly violent sexual urges, which she turns first on her husband, and then even more brutally, on herself. As you can expect, the film twists wildly and unexpectedly out of control, leaving most viewers deeply affected.

The cinematography, which deftly blends the grimy hand-held typical of the Dogma Movement, with these gorgeous, highly-stylized moments, is wonderful, and the score will give you shivers. Even more so than the scene of self-mutilation, Willem Dafoe's confrontation with the self-devouring fox, is branded into the back of my mind. While I would be nuts to recommend this film to anyone, it really is a very impressive artistic accomplishment, and you have to admire the guts of Lars Von Trier to tackle such a project. You will never look at Charlotte Gainsbourg in the same way again, as she rightly won the Best Actress award at Cannes in 2009. Few films have impacted me more than Antichrist, and it was one of my top rated films from 2009. Despite owning the film on DVD, I doubt my viewing total will ever surpass its current number of two.

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars (A-)


  1. Great review, congrats on finding so much symbolism to praise between all the controversy. It's been over a year since I saw the film but I certainly wasn't impressed and have no desire to ever watch the film again. IMO, Von Trier tried so hard to shock that any symbolic depth was overshadowed by depravity.

    Check out my review:

  2. I've been wanting to see this for a long time, because... Well, there are a couple of reasons, including that it's from a Danish director and that Charlotte G. is in it.