04/08/2017

Antichrist - Sadisme: The Painful Art

Thoughts On: Antichrist (2009)

After a couple's son falls to his death, the husband tries to treat his chronically depressed wife with cognitive behavioural therapy.


Lars Von Trier, the sometimes interesting, sometimes annoying, sometimes infuriating, sometimes disgusting Danish auteur. Quite a few years ago, Antichrist was my introduction to Von Trier and, for some reason, he captivated me for a short period. I saw his Nymphomaniac films, Melancholia, Dogville and then I tried Breaking The Waves. It was with Breaking Waves that my fascination with Von Trier ended abruptly. Antichrist seemed like something different, visceral, disturbing, seemingly meaningful. The Nymphomaniac films fascinated me also - but on some level I didn't fully grip. With Melancholia, I started to feel tired. I didn't see much meaning and the film bored me a little. Then Dogville; I fought sleep over the run-time of that one, but, in retrospect, there seemed to be something more to that movie. Then came Breaking The Waves. I turned it off after 20 minutes. The movie disgusted me in a way I've never felt before; the aesthetics were so ugly and there was something so putrid dripping from the fabric of Von Trier's cinema that I felt repulsed. This is a pretty silly reaction thinking back, one I've never had since, but, this kept me away from Von Trier's films for a long time. This was until The Idiots.

Having learnt about Dogme 95, I was intrigued to see what the results of the movement were... and I wasn't captivated, nor fascinated, nor intrigued. But, let's not delve into The Idiots again. Having just re-watched Antichrist I've reconciled, just a little bit, with Von Trier. I think that Antichrist is a significant film, maybe a special film, but one that is steeped in this gelatinous, ugly goo that smells pretty bad and is maybe called Lars. In such, I mean to point to the disgusting scenes of this film melding with the acting and writing - both of which have hints of brilliance, but are mainly just passable and sometimes simply bad. In fact, at many points, Antichrist feels like a questionable student movie. However, knowing some of Von Trier's other films, you have to accept that he's not trying to make something that follows the 'quality' guidelines of the zeitgeist. That said, I can't completely overlook the ugliness of this movie as I don't think personal ideas of quality should be thrown away entirely; whilst prejudices and preconceptions should be challenged, there's no need to drift into the postmodern vacuum in my view (this is a place of safety for the immature to hide - let us just look into the proverbial void). This leaves me somewhat sympathetic to all Von Trier does in regards to his formal construction of this narrative, but not naively forgiving.

Because I can't help but see much of the awkwardness of Antichrist's design, I won't say it's a great movie. However, there is something about it that has again captivated me. I don't have a good grip on the subtext of this narrative, and Von Trier has said that he made this film to be an 'open' one, so I'd be wary of providing an analysis of this movie. But, what struck me was certainly the conflict established between our main character, 'she', and nature. 'She' seems to be unable to confront all the meaninglessness and simultaneous malevolence that can manifest itself in the world because she attributes too much causality and meaning to tragedy - which is captured perfectly by the best sequence of the film: the opening. This is why 'She' seems to see herself, and her gender, as evil. And the conflict she comes to face with her husband, who I would say is the Antichrist, the False Messiah, seems to create an allegory centred on broken, incomplete and confused people--victims of tragedy and their own hamartia--that explodes into destructive and sadistic melodrama.

However, without being able to see much more depth and nuance beyond this initial insight, I was left quite struck by the manner in which Von Trier depicts this story. Without a doubt, Von Trier manages to step over many lines that people won't forgive him for; the mere juxtaposition of explicit sexual intercourse and a baby explicitly falling to his death will be enough to have people turn this movie off instantly - and maybe for good reason. But, without flinching at the fact that he's creating a completely fucked up movie, Von Trier seems to elevate his film to the level of something like Irreversible. I think Irreversible is the film I prefer to Antichrist, but both have this sadistic, maybe even masochistic, idea of truth embedded deeply within them; one founded on the reality of the world and of the darkest pits of human nature, however absurd, however vile, however surreal. (But, what separates Irreversible from Antichrist is certainly the sense of positivity and hope that Noé somehow finds).

The redeemable substance of Antichrist then lies its sadistic, maybe truthful, art. Von Trier, depressed, sadomasochistic and seemingly disturbed, puts into the light something deep within himself with this movie... and I think it pays off. So, ultimately, I'm left slightly torn; there is something significant that I see in this movie, but it is also not a very great one. Having mulled it over, I think I'm happy to leave this film as a bit of a mess - a disturbing one at that. There's only one thing I think I'm sure of: Tarkovsky would not react well knowing this film was dedicated to him.

But, with all of that said, I turn to you. Is there anything redeemable about this film? If so, what is it? If not, why?





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