Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

by Smart

I do not trust this film. I will never let it go, but I do not trust it. That is a dysfunctional relationship. Every shot, every line, every overt symbol is laid out before us, dripping with significance and begging to be read. That, I feel, is the trap. Once we make our reading, once we say it out loud or write it down, we have lost a part of the film forever to our own scepticism. It is too easy and too convenient to throw a binary lasso around each deliciously loaded image, regardless of how inviting and veracious it may be to do so. Art deserves better than that, for it takes but a single centrally positioned nail to hold an alleged meaning in place long enough to tear it tragically to shreds by way of factitious textual analysis. You would of course be shredding a lie, as I am convinced that Antichrist has far more to it than just the allegorical surface it presents with such manic aggression. The quandary comes in that what lies underneath is, and must remain, frighteningly ambiguous. It took me half the film to realise this, as for the first two chapters it appeared that Lars von Trier was, once again, fighting with his audience. This was not achieved through clandestine plotting or an orthodox distancing technique, but rather an all out impasse of indiscreet exposition, emotional over-analysis and loud, hollow foreshadowing. The result of all this being an awkward, dizzying puzzle, which is only able to be unravelled when complemented by the remaining half. Do not get me wrong, this is not a fault, but rather a great, enduring strength.

Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performance as the unnamed woman is harrowing and steeped in gravitas. There is a great deal to be learned from simply watching her movements, which exploit her entire body as a means of unspoken expression, adding a level of depth to her character that could not have been conveyed in any other manner. Willem Dafoe’s character, also unnamed, is up against her at every turn, deluded by his role in their relationship and unable to come to terms with this. The ferocious battle between these two personalities becomes the dynamic and complex heart of the twisted narrative. As is common with von Trier’s work, Antichrist‘s aesthetic is an eclectic mixture of the ethereal, the intimate, and the disorientating. Gorgeous, glowing slow motion sequences of majestic beauty and form are juxtaposed with rough, jarring handheld work that thrives on abrupt zooms and cuts to unexpected angles. The balance between these two disparate styles is delicate but handled well, delivering enormous visual impact when needed and presenting an effective dichotomy with regards to the articulation of depression as an experienced state of mind. While there are a number of moments that would earn Antichrist a place within the horror genre, it is beside the point to digest it as such. The violence, the darkness, the torture, it all comes from within, from a struggle that, as the film so adeptly shows, echoes back to nature itself.

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