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Movie review: Antichrist

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | DECEMBER 07, 2009 7:30 AM

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** out of *****

One word to describe Antichrist? Uncomfortable.

Divided into five parts, the film opens with an epilogue depicting a couple having sex as their little boy falls to his death out the window of another room. The grief of the situation sends the mother, known only as She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), to the hospital. Her husband, He (Willem Dafoe), is a therapist who decides to treat her depression himself. To confront her fears, the two retreat to their cabin, known as “Eden.” While in the woods, they deal with their complicated relationship, lustful cruelty, and the evil inherent in nature.

Written and directed by Lars von Trier, Antichrist does not disappoint those looking for his typical edge. The film is full of graphic, often grotesque, moments that mix sex, anger, and frustration.

Although sometimes capturing beautiful scenes of human interaction, the movie simply cannot overcome its onslaught of disgust.

He and She, brilliantly played, represent some of the deepest and rooted evils of our society. Dafoe makes us believe his character’s arrogance and ignorance to the situation as he refuses to admit there is something medically wrong with his wife.

Gainsbourg took on a beyond-challenging role that forced her to lose her mind and, it illustrates how guilt and grief can control one to the point of insanity. She completely embodies a woman who is dealing with travesty — and not for one moment do we doubt her.

However, despite two great performances, the film cannot escape its graphic nature. Von Trier is a fearless filmmaker, and even if what’s on screen makes stomachs turn, it’s honest, and for that he must be admired.

But regardless of honesty, or integrity, or any other word typically used to describe art, the audience must ask the simple question — why? What is the reason for this? Why do we need to see images of genitalia being destroyed? Are there other ways to shoot a film like this without being so explicit? Simply, what is the point?

But that’s exactly what von Trier is trying to explore. On a viewer’s first response, Antichrist may feel as if it’s pointless. Nothing is resolved. There are no answers. We’re left with images of phallic destruction that will elicit themselves at the wrong times. But through this frustration, von Trier wants us to question human nature. He almost has us, but it’s just too much.

What the director forgets is how we react. Nobody wants to witness the destruction of private parts.

These horrors just don’t work when trying to explore emotions, because, simply, we’re too distracted. Some artists might argue that’s the audience’s fault for not having the vision to look to the greater good, and that might be true to an extent, but Antichrist doesn’t know how to find a balance.

Audiences want more than just physical body destruction, and although von Trier tries to expand his message, it’s too muddy. The result changes from a promising, beautiful exploration of the emotional landscape to a disgusting, insulting experience.


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