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MIFF09 review: ANTICHRIST (dir. Lars Von Trier)

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Review by Brad Nguyen

Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist is a shock to the system even when you know beforehand that the film involves cliterectomies and bloody ejaculations and graphic sex involving Willem Dafoe. But, like his previous films, Antichrist is intellectually stimulating even as it repels you, shifting from cute Lynchian surrealism in the first half to Bataillesque perversions in the second.

The film opens with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple having wild animalistic sex while their child climbs out of his cot onto a window sill and falls to his death. The woman is distraught, crippled by grief and guilt. The man, a therapist, is more controlled in his emotions and undertakes to treat his wife as his patient. Her treatment leads the couple to their holiday home in the woods where evil supernatural forces conspire against the man and the woman’s grief transforms into crazed malevolence.

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Once again Lars Von Trier has sustained attacks from critics calling him a misogynist, but this point is not really sustained by the film, even if Lars Von Trier is admittedly walking a fine line. (Walking a fine line is probably not the right phrase. A woman is credited for being the film’s “misogyny expert” so it’s more like Lars Von Trier taking that fine line and beating it to a pulp.) The main concern of Von Trier in Antichrist is the stupidity of psychology as it attempts to tame the mysteriousness of the human psyche. Hence the dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky in the credits, meant as a knowingly ironic provocation and at the same time with absolute sincerity. As in Solaris, a rational man enters a physical space where the subconscious reigns with a mission to restore order. Willem Dafoe’s character doesn’t understand the grief that consumes his wife but determines to impose on her scientific explanations for her grief, complexes that he prepared earlier.

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The weirdness that follows is not so much inspired by Tarkovsky as by Bunuel and Dali – the cliterectomy that is performed by Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character on herself, seen in full view, recalls the slicing open of an eye in Un chien andolou only it’s much, much more shocking (Much). I suspect the Surrealists would approve of Antichrist.

But how to position the “misogyny” of Antichrist? We learn that the woman has been writing a thesis on “gynocide” in the woods but becomes convinced in the film that the witch hunts and the whole of history is proof of the evil of woman. She subsequently smashes Willem Dafoe’s penis in with a log. The least convincing argument is that Lars Von Trier actually believes women to be evil which leaves two explanations: The first explanation is that the “evil” of the woman is a projection of the man’s anxieties. The second explanation (which I like) is that the woman is audaciously appropriating misogyny. Her proclamations on the evils of women are not so much coherent arguments on the subject so much as a big fuck you to the man attempting to structure the psyche.

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