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The beauty of Antichrist

BY MICHAEL DAVIS | DECEMBER 09, 2009 7:30 AM

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This week’s screening at the Bijou Theatre is Antichrist, a highly controversial film by director Lars von Trier. It made its début last Friday, and yours truly was in attendance.

At the one-hour mark of the film, I made a mental note that this was by far the most violent and shocking film I had ever seen. But the film is also a perfect example of how far we have come from the censorship era that rocked this nation for much of the first half of the 20th century.

Antichrist begins with the tragedy of losing a child and illustrates the massive effects this can have on the lives of those left behind, albeit in an over-the-top manner. The film is full of graphic scenes of sex and violence so provocative that the Motion Picture Association of America did not give it a rating.

Censoring the content of films has long been an issue, dating as far back as the ’20s. Words such as “virgin” “sex,” and “affair” were unmistakably absent from Hollywood. We are lucky that the moral majority didn’t win the fight, or we would still be watching reruns of black and white melodramas that ignored human nature.

The mentality of “shoot first and ask questions later” is normally frowned upon. But in a free society — one that promotes free-thinking men and women — this should be the rule for any art form.

Men and women can disagree, but it is far better to offend someone by the art than by the suggestion that we lack the confidence in judging for ourselves what art is and isn’t in good taste.

Honest discussions like these would not occur if we preemptively censored films, books, or music.

Fewer than 60 years ago, mainstream films were not protected under the First Amendment as an extension of free speech and expression. This astonishing fact makes it all the more remarkable that this university has its own independent film venue, showing the films mainstream America neglects or avoids. Venues like the Bijou Theatre allow multiple viewpoints to thrive in a world where being “politically correct” means the “unusual” opinion is always wrong.

Antichrist won’t be the last film that prompts the discussion of how far is too far. And let’s hope it won’t be. Heated discussions over art enhance our appreciation that we live in a country that promotes free expression over stringent censorship.

Freedom of expression shouldn’t always be associated with a liberal ideology either. The First Amendment is often in discussions about which political group is right about a certain controversial subject.

Freedom of speech for conservatives is acknowledged by some as threatening or hateful, but when liberals have their say we tout its open-mindedness. As American philosopher Noam Chomsky said, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

I dislike (not despise) Glenn Beck. But his rants are as much an extension of freedom of speech as any film or book — especially in the case of Antichrist. While my inclination is to censor him, I simply choose not to listen to his ramblings.

If you choose to attend Antichrist this week, you may come away offended, shocked, or mortified. Hyperbolic adjectives are easy to come by with this film. But, in the process, remind yourself how uneventful or mundane life would be if we agreed on everything.

The morning coffee break would be nowhere near as enjoyable.


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