A woman and a man lose their son in a tragic accident. Rather than trust in the medicine prescribed by her psychiatrist to ease her grief, he (a psychotherapist) decides to subject her to his own therapeutic regime. She (in an incredibly devastating performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg) will face her fears directly, and see that there is nothing to fear. He doesn't consider that he may have something to fear from her, or that he, with his clinical detachment from feeling and incessant preoccupation with the stance of observer, may be the one who truly needs therapy. (On that note it is hard not to detect a kinship of the themes of this film with the themes of von Trier and Jorgen Leth's The Five Obstructions, that set up von Trier himself as therapist to Leth, whose capacity for aesthetic detachment he found troubling).
The imagery in the film is fascinating and frightening - it is certainly von Trier's most accomplished film in terms of cinematography, and it definitely deserves to get the Criterion treatment (note that at present it has been announced on Criterion's blog but there is no official release date). The prologue and epilogue are highly formalistic, shot in a series of powerful black and white images that border on the unreal; the rest of the film, broken into five chapters, is shot handheld with washed out but saturated colors, with rippling natural imagery and occasional freaks of nature that as a whole evokes a darker vision of Tarkovsky's zone (from Stalker). The film is in fact dedicated to Tarkovsky, and suggests a kind of inversion of his values and approach: whereas Tarkovsky finds in nature the potential for transcendence, suggested but not depicted, von Trier depicts in nature the reality of hell, a "Satan's church" where, as the fox asserts, "chaos reigns"; where Tarkovsky takes long, leisurely tracking shots, von Trier's are a bit jerky and employ the occasional jump cut, but he also employs the trademark Tarkovskian slow zoom into extreme close up on a partial face or gesture, and also (as I recall) occasionally employs the "temporal folding" that is common in Tarkovsky's films, where in the course of a single pan or tracking shot of the camera, events are depicted as if simultaneous that could not have been.
The film has been described by several critics as suggesting that women are evil, and the setting in a woods they call "Eden" makes it hard not to see "she" (Gainsbourg) as a kind of twisted Eve figure whose longings and obsessions introduce evil and death into the garden. Still, it seems to me that the central character in the film is "He" and the film uses him as an object lesson to provide a critical depiction of a paranoid male fantasy/nightmare. "He" (played admirably by Willem Dafoe) is a therapist who is confident of his powers, and was obsessed by his job and detached from his wife and son until the accident allowed him to treat her as patient. He had dismissed as trite her writing and research on misogyny and "gynocide" - hatred and violence against women, born of fear -- and was emotionally distant from her until now she became for him a fascinating object of study. He becomes threatened and uneasy when she seems to have been cured, and seeks to continue the therapy by whatever means necessary. What she really fears, he insists, is that the male fears about women that inspired the violence she had studied were in fact true, that women are in fact evil - and that she is herself the object of her fears. When his projection onto her becomes real, when the fear he projected onto her comes to life, it becomes clear that this is his own paranoid fantasy, his own fear of aggressive female sexuality come to life allows him to justify and actualize the violent retaliation he had formerly only been able to realize against her in words, by objectifying and dismissing her.
It is as if, von Trier's film suggests, as if the modern version of the old male fear of the feminine, expressed then by accusing powerful women of witchcraft as a justification for doing them violence, as if this fear has been transformed or sublimated into the male pretense of objectivity. An objectivity that treats women as if their fears and concerns were utterly banal, but only out of a deeper anxiety that if women were to realize that male objectivity is really a new form of witchcraft aimed at silencing women, if women were to realize this they would come into their own and that would be the real danger. The film does not, as I see it, in any way endorse this view of women, or this fear, but depicts it powerfully in the form of a perverse parody. Not for the timid, but not to be dismissed, either, as if it were merely another provocative and shocking joke by that Danish trickster, Lars von Trier. It's a subtle and complex film, powerfully shot, darkly scintillating and dangerous.
"Antichrist" Not Just a Movie, an Experience Amos Lassen While a couple is having sexual intercourse in one room, their son falls out of the window in another room and dies. The mother is so grief-stricken that she is hospitalized but her husband who is a therapist brings her home and wants to treat her depression himself. They decide to confront their fears and go to stay in their cabin in the woods where something terrible happened … more
Pros: Beautiful to watch, intense story, acting, music Cons: Unfortunately too intense/abusive for a wider audience The Bottom Line: One of the prettiest movies I've ever seen. The subject matter is a painful descent into madness but ultimately worth significant effort. Directors categorized in the spastically defined “art house” generally create films that are usually (at least for me) difficult as … more