First things first. There is no denying Lars von Trier is a provocateur filmmaker and there is certainly no denying the antagonistic auteur's latest work, Antichrist is his most obviously provoking film to date - and that is one bold-ass statement. If the blatant shock tactics and pretentious demeanor are not enough to convince one, then they should have been at the New York Film Festival press screening for the via satellite Q&A where von Trier pretty much admits to such, with the most devilish of grins on his twenty foot high face beaming across the Walter Reade. It is a well-documented fact that von Trier is an arrogant, indignant, conceited, contemptuous, swaggering, pompous, prima donna of a filmmaker and Antichrist may very well be his grand guignol opus of arrogant, indignant, conceited, contemptuous, swaggering, pompous, prima donna filmmaking. No one - not his most fervent supporters nor his most disparaging critics - is denying such a cold hard fact as this. The only difference between the two widely split factions is that one group thinks such arrogant, indignant, conceited, contemptuous, swaggering, pompous, prima donna filmmaking is a bad thing.
Antichrist, with its very un-dogme-like opening title boldly announcing this as a Lars von Trier film, is the story of one couple - known simply as "He" and "She" in the credits - going through the aftermath of losing a child. Simple enough so far, right? Well just remember, this is the very heavy-handed Lars von Trier we are talking about - nothing is simple. Opening in ultra crisp black and white and slo-mo for slo-mo's sake, we find Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as the aforementioned He and She, intensely fucking in the shower. As the seemingly insatiable couple move from bathroom to bedroom, we watch as their toddler wanders over to the inevitably wide-open window and falls to his death in the billowy snowy exterior. All this is done with an operatic score and the most pretentious of attitude. We are meant to feel more for the stunning cinematography and audacious filmmaking technique than for this supposedly unaware couple fucking away in oblivious bliss while their child plummets to his death. Again, there are those who think this a bad thing overall.
We next skip morosely into colour - sort of an anti-Wizard of Oz changeover - and the reactions of both He and She to this grand tragedy. Dafoe's He is a pompous psychologist and thus takes it upon himself to cure his grief bestricken wife - no matter the inevitable consequences. In doing this the couple travel to their wooded cabin. The name of this wooded property that the nameless couple retreat to after the fall? Eden - what else could it have ever been called? With biblical manifestations firmly implanted, von Trier now takes us on the most surreally contrived adventure yet - and again, I mean this in the most complimentary of ways. This story could be nothing less than what it is or it would fail. In other words, in order to survive, Antichrist needs to be that arrogant, indignant, conceited, contemptuous, swaggering, pompous, prima donna kind of filmmaking mentioned above. The genital mutilation, supposed misogynistic overtones - one could, and one did, just as easily see this film as a female empowerment movie - grandiose over-the-top photography and art direction and the fox who takes a moment out of eating his own entrails to CGI-ly announce that "chaos reigns" perhaps is a bit much for many a filmgoer - both the average joe and the cinephile alike - but once again, it is all completely necessary - even in its obvious excesses.
To keep acting as gallant defender, the accusations of misogyny - how it is the woman who is the insatiable nymphomaniac and it is the woman who goes mad and cuts off her own clitoris (yeah, you read that right!) and it is the woman who is the destroyer of things - are just dumbfounded attacks at a movie people do not understand. Aside from having a misogyny researcher among the credits (and yes it is a woman!), as stated above, if nothing else - and it is definitely much else as well - Antichrist is a woman's movie, not a man's. It is the man, in all his arrogance, who causes the woman to become the aggressor. It is the man who creates this monster. It is man who destroys woman. There have been some who have likened Antichrist to a rape-and-revenge story and I am much inclined to go along with such a line of reasoning. The film is much more than meets the eye. Yet for all the theories and psychobabble we tend to throw out there as film critics, in the end Antichrist is merely arrogant, indignant, conceited, contemptuous, swaggering, pompous, prima donna filmmaking at its most arrogant, indignant, conceited, contemptuous, swaggering, pompous and prima donna-ish. And this critic wouldn't have it any other way. [10/21/09]