It all began in 1929 with Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou where we see a man slit a woman’s eyeball with a razor blade (actually a calf’s eye). Since then we’ve been given such brazen shock cinema milestones as Salò (Pasolini, Italian), The Night Porter (Cavani, Italian), Funny Games (Haneke, German), and Irréversible (Noé, French), but that’s just to name a few.
Hmm, no American directors there. That’s interesting. I may stretch a little to consider David Lynch’s Eraserhead, but that’s more surrealist than shock.
Each of these films are appalling, sure. But they’re also kind of brilliant, if you take a step back and consider the scope of film in general. However, a film isn’t poetic “art” just because it pushes the limits. The hipster-intellectual crowd may bow over backwords for a fresh slice of shock cinema, but just because a film has gratuitous sex and deplorable violence, doesn’t make it great, or even worthy of cult status.
Enter Antichrist, the next feasible step in Lars Von Trier’s personal shock factory. And may I say, the auteur behind bold, innovative films like Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville, has surely outdone himself this time.
Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as a married couple who in a steamy, bravado prologue lose their infant son in a tragic accident. Gainsbourg blames herself as she falls deep into the wallows of grief. Dafoe, a professional shrink, steps in with his very odd, hands-on tactics to “correct” her sorrow.
All is good and mundane while the two work out their issues in their trendy loft apartment, but once they head to Eden, their cabin in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, the movie starts to seriously drift into delirium.
I’m not really sure how to describe the plot from there. Expect extremely slow-motion shots of a deer giving birth, talking animals, falling acorns, graphic masterbation, and a bit of the ol’ ultra-violence that would make any person squirm. By the end, I wasn’t really sure if the film was about anything in particular. As is the case with most shock cinema, Von Trier seems more interested in… shocking us, than delivering solid content.
But that argument goes both ways. On one hand, Antichrist deeply disturbed me. It is one, if not the, most gut wrenching movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. The violence gets over-the-top, sure, but it is definitely believable. On the other hand, Antichrist provokes some damn fine post-film chatter. There is a lot going on here, it just feels like Von Trier is the only one in on the joke.
So, all in all, I guess I can recommend this film. If for no other reason than the performances, both of which are brilliant (Gainsbourg won Best Actress at Cannes). But know what you’re getting yourself into. Antichrist is a test. A challenge. It just may not be one you’re willing to accept. B