Saturday, October 01, 2011

"Antichrist" (2009) - Movie Review

When “Antichrist” premiered in 2009 Cannes film festival and stirred controversy, I was crazy psyched to see the film mainly for the buzz. Then I learned the ordeal it put the audience through and heard what Willem Dafoe’s character gets brutal violence from Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character and what she puts herself through. I decided I am not going to see it and that was that. Couple of years later I start this film group and my fellow film aficionados suggest this for viewing for which I say no and they confront me of my unfairness. I succumb to the argument. And here it goes.

Knowing the extremity of this film, I have to say that I was constantly in anticipation of the horror than the actual flow of the film. That might have put a dent on viewing without reservations nevertheless Lars Von Trier's film is not for the faint hearted. It tells a story of a couple going through the mourning stages given in chapter form. In the "Prologue", we see their kid slowly walk up to the window and slip to his death while the couple are passionately making love. The film has immaculate cinematography with images capturing stillness in motion. Shot with high speed camera and an opera guiding that scene to its inevitable tragedy, you see a director wanting an art that is in between a timeless photograph and alive in motion. The current technology provides that for Lars Von Trier and he exploits it to great visuals like this.

The loss and the guilt haunts the "She" (Charlotte Gainsbourg) while her husband "He" (Willem Dafoe) sees it clinically, analyzing emotions and trying to deal it like a disease. Him being a therapist, he does the blunder of taking his wife as his patient and begins to "psychosoothe" her through exercises in accepting fear and letting her through the process of mourning. Sex that navigates through the life has pleasure, shame, guilt and love varying through it. It is complicated and complicates everything. Having lost the best part of your love while indulging in the act is an unimaginable terror. Both He and She are part of it and how can they overcome this terror? I think writing about it reveals the film’s finale of She putting He through that terror. May be that is her cleansing or an attempt in cleansing. She could have gone for suicide but she needs to feel the pain in the extreme nature and thereby arriving to the gory, visceral and unfathomable acts.

Segueing to the violent scenes, while they are what I described them, they are brief and saying it visceral might be putting it very mild. Violence with finest detail in films invigorate anger and disgust in me when is no sense for it to be out there. Especially when it is only out there to shock. And in “Antichrist” it "artistically" makes sense to have it but it is an excruciating exercise to prove a thought. Though that is how an artist goes through his/her work. Yet the process is not rewarding. I have to cite the example of seeing "The Holy Mountain" which with its bizarre and disturbing images was exhausting to sit through but the experience was unique in its wide sense and as mentioned earlier rewarding.

Von Trier initially specifies that the nature is evil and sinister. It is given through the couple’s visit to Eden, the ill cabin. As they go through talking about the process of grieving, we see Dafoe’s character transforms from being an understanding husband and an effective therapist to a righteous jerk and beginning to annoy the reeking logical conclusion he is anticipating of. Then comes the misogynistic ideas She did her research on her last visit with her son. A story in itself with characters having proper names would not have made this as controversial as it made it out to be. Assigning generic names to the character shows that Von Trier went above and beyond to say that they are representing their gender. “Antichrist” insinuates subtly and blatantly through the nature of being a man and being a woman.

I would not argue on the differences of nature between men and women. Clearly these two species despite being humans are so far apart biologically and psychologically. And in a world of men, women’s character gets dissected, analyzed and criticized to its nth miniscule sectors. Men are claimed to be simple, hollow and easy to understand it is the antonym for women. While we men are of course easy to unlock, I believe being human itself has its facets of complication and internal mechanics of mind bubbles out spurring surprises day in and day out. You can tell that from this creator itself who portrays a dark mind of his own onto the screen. To take a stand like that explicitly makes it outrageous to accept the concept of proclaiming women as inherently evil. Finally but not in the least bit less important, "Antichrist" gets daring performances by Willen Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg going through this ordeal and giving everything they have got. It is astounding and shocking to see their commitment to take up this project and journey through Von Trier's mad, twisted and dangerously dark mind.

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