Friday, October 23, 2009

A Couple of Notes on ANTICHRIST

I had intended to open this post with an image of Lars von Trier's head almost floating in the space of a giant gray screen. It was a real image that I had snapped from my camera while attending the Skyped press conference at the NYFF weeks ago (von Trier, as you know, doesn't fly so cross-Atlantic festival appearances are out of the question). While Von Trier gazed down impishly at the crowd from the screen that had just shown his latest firebomb Antichrist, my thoughts jumped to Shosanna's "Giant Face" in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. It wouldn't have surprised me at all to find that the doors had been locked and von Trier was planning to burn down the theater. Figuratively! Though Lars is kind of a sick puppy, he's more of a prankster than a true nihilist.

...I lost that image and also lost my notes. Very ill the day of the screening, you see. Also missed random minutes of the movie thrice. Thus, no proper review and an indecisive grade. Maybe those of you who brave it this weekend can help me decide what to make of it.

"Eden" production design by Karl Júlíusson, art direction by Tim Pannen
and cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle


In the movie Charlotte Gainsbourg as She and Willem Dafoe as He play doctor both figuratively and connotatively after the death of their only children. That is to say: He's a psychiatrist who decides to treat his own wife (taboo), they fuck (a lot), they fuck each other up even more (mentally at first but then...). "She" and "He" do all of this in a place called "Eden". Von Trier's giant face mentioned the title of this country home and shook his head at the heavy handedness. "Yeah, sorry about that" He told the crowd unprompted.

At some point in the press conference he asked if anyone had walked out of his movie, and seemed delighted when someone yelled out that they did in fact see someone leave. People, especially jaded critics, like the idea of people fleeing a movie. I like it too. It helps us feel superior to people who can't handle audacious cinema. But, um, that was me. I was just going to the bathroom. Thrice (didn't return to the same seat). It's not like I'd walk out of a von Trier picture. I love that Mad Dane.

Antichrist has a few of terrific moments, some decidedly vile ones and several arresting images. And, yes, those categories overlap as the couple descends further into violence (that already infamous scissor poster is not the half of it), psychotic breaks and demonic hallucinations in Eden, nature being "the church of satan" according to She. But in the end this psycho-horror film felt -- to sick me remember (I'm willing to try again) -- like a 45 minute story that kept repeating itself as the director dragged his actors sadistically through their grotesque marks. The praise for the twin performances seems excessive. Dafoe and Gainsbourg bravely render He and She, sure, but these aren't characters so much as blue puppets for the auteur. Not that every film needs full characterisations (this one didn't).


I suspect that von Trier is having a chuckle at all the “masterpiece” talk since the film often feels like an increasingly sick comic conversation he’s having with himself. The topic is his own perceived misogyny, recent confessed depression and general cinematic nihilism. Antichrist plays like a movie about von Trier for von Trier starring von Trier. Perhaps that's why my very favorite moment came first. I loved the loudly scored cut from the title card "LARS VON TRIER" to the title card "ANTICHRIST", both hand-scrawled in bold colorful colors. I'm not sure if the former is the latter, owns the latter or merely feels a special kinship but it was hilariously juxtaposed all the same.

update: Katey and I talk about the movie
*
for previous takes on Antichrist (everyone will have an opinion and some guests have already weighed in) just click the label below

24 comments:

notanotherblog said...

Someone on Jezebel.com commented that it wasn't 100% misogynist and how this movie was about abuse on both sides. He takes it into his own to cure her, or on the pretense to cure her. From retrospect it feels like she's his little project, taking her away from her family and friends, and even encouraging an isolationist approach seems totally dangerous, although I'm not a Pysch major or anything.

On She's side, it isn't as much that they have lots of sex as she rapes him, and we can totally expand on that.

Days after this screening I was in line for Micmacs and this business industry guy kept talking about :how Charlotte Gainsbourg totally smashed his BALLS" and kept saying this sentence a million times. I developed this twitch in my right leg wherein I'd suddenly try to protect my own jewels.

In summation, as a testament to how fucked up relationships could be, it's a masterpiece. When it comes to an indictment on the female race and talking foxes...

notanotherblog said...

ETA: As to how I ended up seeing the movie: Was in line for four hours, some pregnant lady sells the tickets to me. I paid a pregnant French lady 40 dollars so I can cover my face for the second part of the movie. I wasn't brave enough to face the snip snip in its full screen glory. But then I may have saved the lady and her child.

NATHANIEL R said...

notanother... well, i'd be the first to stand up for Lars Von Trier as being less misogynist than he's labelled. and agreed both He and She are completely crazy here (She being only more transparently so)

smashing balls does not sound pleasant. but then... the movie is not pleasant.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Lars Von Trier movies, did you forget about a certain actress's (from Trier's oh-so-amazing Dancer in the Dark) birthday yesterday???

amir_uk said...

Omg, is that scissor poster the one that was used for the US release? It's a-may-zing! Already looks like a vintage poster from the 70s, what with that font and the way it announces its actors. I want! Can someone in the States pick one up for me?!?

Also, this film really wasn't all that shocking. And I'm not playing devil's advocate here. Like, really. Yes, some of the imagery was grotesque, but what stood out for me more than anything else is how beautiful it was too look at (I'm pretending that Anthony Dod Mantle won his Oscar in anticipation of this (kind of like a movie Obama Nobel peace prize) and not for Slumshit) and how genuinely moving it all was. Gainsbourg in particular did a lot for me in this respect - she'll be on my Best Actress ballot.

And I still think about this film a lot, even though it was released here in July.
moving it was.

Pratyush Khaitan said...

You are right that the movie feels very long. Didn't like it regardless of the sexually graphic nature of the movie.

adam k. said...

So I guess we're looking at...

Streep
Mulligan
Sidibe
(very likely)

Mirren
Cornish
Ronan
Pfeiffer
(fighting it out for two more spots)

Swinton
Swank
(hoping against hope to gain traction)

Along with Portman, Tautou, Monaghan, and other likely vote siphoners.

Streep, Mulligan, Ronan, Pfeiffer and Sidibe would be sweet for my actress psychic predictions.

Streep, Mulligan, Sidibe, Cornish and Swinton would just be a great lineup in general.

pomme said...

i think Lars Von Trier has a trouble with sex and women but he LOVES the actresses.
The movie's provocative for nothing( with what i saw)
I slept during the movie(it's bad) but my boyfriend was afraid for his "body" LOL

Mikkel said...

This interview (http://politiken.dk/kultur/article814056.ece - you can probably get some sense out of Google Translate) might be of interest here.

Basically, Von Trier himself dislikes Antichrist immensely, and thinks that since he had a depression at the time, he was unable to work properly, and the movie therefore suffers. He did like the aesthetics of the movie though.

J.L said...

I thought Antichrist was a modern masterpiece!

UncleVanya said...

I hope it was because you were ill, Nat, that you released such a shoddy, dismissive and thoughtless review for an artistically noteworthy, philosophically damning film. Cogency used to be, and I hope still is, your greatest asset.

Arlo said...

Who said he wasn't being cogent? He gave his honest view of the film and apparently likes Von Trier anyways. I'd take it or leave it if I were you.

UncleVanya said...

I apoligize, Arlo...obviously I offended you. :(

notanotherblog said...

"smashing balls does not sound pleasant. but then... the movie is not pleasant."

Also, Dogville probably turned me into an alcoholic.

And if you watch Antichrist and are capable of "thoughts" afterwards, you're not a person.

Arlo said...

Haha of course I am not offended, but he is entitled to give a movie a bad review if he wants. Many critics have done so.

I still haven't decided if I am going to see this. I doubt it will even come to a theater near me, since I live in the middle of nowhere. Curse small towns.

Arlo said...

Haha of course I am not offended, but he is entitled to give a movie a bad review if he wants. Many critics have done so.

I still haven't decided if I am going to see this. I doubt it will even come to a theater near me, since I live in the middle of nowhere. Curse small towns.

notanotherblog said...

I shouldn't say this because Nathaniel seems like a guy who pays for movies, but Torrent.

There was a news item about Antichrist posters in the Philippines. I thought to myself "Why do you care, it's never gonna be released there."

NATHANIEL R said...

notanother i go pay for movies but only 1/2 the time cuz i go to a lot of screenings. I don't believe in downloading them... primarily because the quality is so bad not for the moral reasons ;)

i'm not really into piracy in general. Especially when it comes to artists whose work I love. It's not like i've never downloaded music for free but i never do it with artists whose careers I feel should be supported. I'd be more likely to download a song by someone i don't like that's the only song by them i do like if that makes any sense.

arlo but isn't antichrist going ONDEMAND soon? You should be able to see it.

unclevanya I'll take "dismissive" but i don't know about "thoughtless and shoddy"... i have been thinking about the movie, maybe not deeply ;) but i have. i just didn't respond well to it but Von Trier is still one of my favorite filmmakers in the world and it's definitely worth seeing just because there's so much to hate or love ... that's way better than the countless parade of disposable movies that trudge by.

as for seeing it again... time is the only concern there because starting right about now there's never any time for anything (since the studios are so willing to destroy the holidays for anyone who cares about the cinema. Opening just in time for Oscar: 2000 more films!)

bruce said...

This review was not worthless or shoddy. I don't think it will be the last we hear about Antichrist on this here blog.

UncleVanya said...

Nat said

"time is the only concern there because starting right about now there's never any time for anything (since the studios are so willing to destroy the holidays for anyone who cares about the cinema. Opening just in time for Oscar: 2000 more films!)"

I share your concern, Nat. And sorry if I was a little harsh. I actually woke up this morning with a bit of a hangover, and immediately felt guilty. Glad to see you were not offended. However, I still feel that Antichrist deserves more consideration.

Branden said...

I don't think it was overtly misogynistic. It poked fun at the history of women being evil, Salem Witch trails and all that.

I think it has a subdued feminist message where SHE didn't want to have anything male near her.

Yes, it was disturbing, but I loved it.

MikeAlike(recording artist) said...

"Horror" is subjective by definition, typically intellects understand "horror" not as thrilling but horrific, maybe even a terrible experience.
As a concept, making a film which moves slow without a deep root of action to build to a minimal climax could lead one into boredom- I find this to be scary in itself and almost comical, I also don't watch T.V. so my brain is not branded by commercials and drawn pre-programing. The horror of this film is not in part completely the melodrama but female psychology and trying to understand it- the intent of this picture is to understand the depravity of men/women and child rearing- the horror of losing a baby, sex and primordial ambitions. Many have scorned this film as being "not scary" or an ego trip- when in fact it fulfilled its intentions...
It didn't meet my expectations because the reviews were so dismal, thankfully I enjoyed, and had a profound moment while watching the movie, which is a rare, very rare occurrence while watching a "horror" film or any film in particular-and worth the price of a ticket. I don't remember "Dancer In The Dark" being particularly anything but interesting, extended and odd in a high profile cinematic sense with an almost bland undertone which seemed intentional. I thought the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake was a satire and laughed throughout 70% of the movie, and "Eyes Wide Shut" was a comedy- satire as well. Somebody told me "Black X-Mas" was a terrible horror film- in fact I thought it was amusing and nobody quite understood the casting of a former SCTV actress I assume. It can take years for people to evolve and understand a joke- and Lars Von Trier's "AntiChrist" wasn't funny.

Erich Kuersten said...

People are bound to be polarized by this masterpiece, which plumbs the terrifying depths of female sexuality, ala REPULSION! If this movie was from 1968 it would be heralded a masterpiece by now, but if REPULSION was released in 2009, I'd bet it would take the drubbing ANTICHRIST's been getting (see my acidemic review here and also endeavor to see the film in the light of other euro-horrors as well, like SUCCUBUS, IN MY SKIN, POSSESSION and of course the Japanese IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES.

Patrick said...

Before I started your video review, I went to get some beer and nuts. Then I realized how weird it would be to buy beer and popcorn for watching the film in the theater. Then I remembered the somewhere-around-20-year-olds who did exactly that and reacted to the film as if they had gone to see Saw VI. That's what you get for watching Antichrist at the multiplex, some friends of mine would say. Not that one can't approach it as if it were Saw VI, but I'd like to decide that for myself.

I'm still not sure how much I liked it, I loved how it looked, which accounts for about 65% with me, but I was too annoyed by the people in the back to let the film soak in. On the other hand, I do hate that I have feelings that 'the wrong people' are watching this film and 'ruining' it for the 'real movielovers'. Lars would've loved them, I guess.

I can identify with your ideas on the film, Nathaniel, but they don't weigh in as negatively for me as they do for you. I've got to admit that the moment the screen went to scope-size I was halfway satisfied already.

This is not really going anywhere, I'll try to compose some real thoughts later. Sleep beckons.