Sadness and Madness: ‘Antichrist’ Review

Posted in The Screening Room by - August 17, 2017
Sadness and Madness: ‘Antichrist’  Review

To dub Lars von Trier as a “controversial” filmmaker would be a disservice to his varied and celebrated filmography – it would also, however, be an entirely accurate description. But, “controversial” doesn’t capture the magnitude of which von Trier’s films have divided the opinions of audiences. They are intense, often cryptic, frequently abstract, yet always beautiful. In all regards, Antichrist is no different; no less abstract, intense, or beautiful.

Starring resident crazy eyes haver Willem Dafoe and the talented Charlette Gainsbourg, Antichrist is as unrestrained and cinematically defiant as any of von Trier’s previous works. Focusing on the husband and wife dubbed simply He (Dafoe) and She (Gainsbourg), Antichrist studies how this couple deals with the unimaginable tragedy of losing their infant son. In a bombastic opening scene featuring the two characters making passionate love all over their house, the camera simultaneously shows how He and She’s child crawls through the second floor unsupervised and ultimately falls to his death. Although both parents take fall into deep grief, She takes the death especially hard and becomes severely depressed. Ever the intrepid therapist, He decides that the one thing She needs is to revisit Eden forest, a camping spot the family stayed in the previous year. Upon returning, however, the lush forested area has lost all its former natural beauty, the once vibrant trees and gorgeous, luscious shrubbery now appear gray and barren. In this paradise turned purgatory, He sets out to heal his wife’s broken heart and save their marriage.

With an impressive black and white opening scene set to roaring opera music, Antichrist continues its cinematic grandeur throughout the film. Von Trier and his team take great care to portray the foreboding forest as it seems to She; a dangerous and uninviting place that, despite her desires to be alone and grieve in peace, her mistaken husband pushes her to confront. This reluctance to come to terms with her son’s death out of force instead of peacefully and out of her volition shoves She into a deeper and darker corner. Eventually, all of this pressure coupled with the pre-existing marital tension comes to a head during the film’s climax and has gruesome results – it is a von Trier film after all.

As off-putting as some of the gratuitous genital mutilation might be, Antichrist has significant highs that offset the more disgusting lows. If not for the controversialist edge, the film is worth a watch simply for the superb acting. Dafoe is, as always, exceptional; despite his questionable approach to helping his wife, you can always see that he has only good intentions and truly wishes the best for their family. His grief is subtle, but still present. In fact, the only problems with Dafoe in the film are a result of his character’s idiocy. People shouldn’t be forced into overcoming grief; it’s a natural process and one that you’d expect a therapist of all people would be familiar with. Gainsbourg is no slouch herself, as a mother and wife she perfectly portrays the grief that comes along with losing a child and having no healthy outlet for it. In the more intense and gruesome portions of the film, she also perfectly demonstrates the kind of madness that sometimes arises when pressured while extremely depressed.

As a von Trier film, Antichrist is as obvious as can be. That shouldn’t turn you off however if you can stomach the more graphic sections (and believe me, they are graphic), then the rest of the movie is a substantial study in grief and confronting it. It’s situations like this that make passing a final verdict or score on a film difficult. The satisfaction gained from watching this particular film is, for better or worse, entirely contingent on the viewer. If you know your tastes, you should have no trouble deciding whether this movie is for you.

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When not drowning in school work or ignoring social obligations he enjoys watching movies on just about anything. Currently making his way through the cinema classics he hopes to one day write a novel, but he’ll probably end up playing The Witcher 3 instead.
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