Movie Review #833: ‘Antichrist’ is disturbing and unpleasant, but outstanding.
By Alexander Diminiano
|Rated NR (contains religious subject matter, graphic violence, disturbing content, graphic nudity, strong sexual content, profanity)|
|Catholic Version: 100-104 minutes|
Editor’s Note: This is a review of the “Protestant Version” of the film, which runs 108 minutes. The “Catholic Version” is cut and runs 100 to 104 minutes, depending on the location of where this version is found.
“Antichrist” opens in beautiful black and white to a brilliant and all the while disturbing prologue. We are given the illusion of serenity, but we slowly realize there is nothing peaceful about the film, and there will never be. The disillusionment is also offered later in the film’s epilogue, and even if the epilogue itself offers nothing incredibly shocking, it’s all over the rest of the film.
Though I dare not spoil the epilogue, simply because it does not make sense out of context. The way we are introduced to “Antichrist” in its six-minute prologue is truly remarkable. Director Lars von Trier sets the stage for us without a word, just the sound of “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s opera Rinaldo, and in constant slow-motion. We watch a five-year-old boy enter his parents bedroom in the middle of the night, sleepwalking. Moments later, he leaps out the window to his death. His parents are awake, but do not notice any of the tragedy that has just occurred, as they are distracted making love.
The story, from thereon, consists of four chapters: Grief, Pain, Despair, and The Three Beggars, each chapter more dark, disturbing, and psychological than the last. “Antichrist” tells of the parents after the death of their son. The wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) mourns the death to the point at which it maddens her. Her husband, a therapist (Willem Dafoe), tries persistently and yet fails to help her. Eventually, her husband takes her to the woods of Eden, the place she is more afraid of than anything else in the world, hoping that it will distract her from her son’s death. Incidentally, the one thing that she wants as a method of distraction is exactly the distraction that made her son’s death unpreventable: sex.
“Antichrist” isn’t a horror movie, but it plays out with many elements of a psychological horror movie. The key word being “psychological,” not “horror.” The therapist uses certain techniques to reassure his wife. We watch what goes on inside her mind as he leads her to imagine an encounter with the woods she fears, but to encounter it calmly. Though as we watch, we are well aware that she fears no place on earth more than these woods. We feel that the peace she imagines is only imagined. Part of the craft in Lars von Trier’s writing is psychology, and from this scene on, he takes us into the terrorized mind of the woman.
There are merely two members in the entire cast of “Antichrist”. One is Willem Dafoe, who is perfectly cast into the role. The other, von Trier regular Charlotte Gainsbourg, is exceptional in her role, for which she won a well-deserved Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Neither one of them is immediately realized as evil, but by the film’s third chapter, there’s no better word to describe either of them. In fact, the evil in these characters is the one reason for the title “Antichrist”. Religion is irrelevant to the movie, and the best way I can explain the film’s title is to state that it features two human beings who we don’t like from the start, and by the end, they are realized as the two most hideous representations of evil we have ever seen in a movie.
“Antichrist” is an effectively unsettling motion picture. Like von Trier’s “Melancholia”, this film takes a shaking turn for the unnatural near its halfway point. The film’s third chapter seems a step down from the rest of the movie. Let me be clear that this is where anything graphic in “Antichrist” begins, and the characters begin to dissolve into what they truly are: evil, sex-crazed, demonic scum. “Antichrist” was not submitted to the MPAA because of fear that it would receive an NC-17 rating, not for the extensive and graphic sex scenes depicted, but for the violence, which is unbelievably, unbelievably, unbelievably graphic. Even at this level, I am not bothered by violence, but “Antichrist” makes a point of bothering its audience. It’s a very unsettling movie. The violence does begin to feel pointless during the third chapter, though it does have a point. It’s sadism for the sake of sadism, and in a movie that aims solely to exploit humanity’s evil in ways that its audience finds discomforting, I say entirely acceptable.
Its fourth chapter is where “Antichrist” really hits hard. At first, it seems that this portion of the movie might provide a catharsis after everything we’ve just seen. But then, all of a sudden, we witness an act that guarantees us nothing has calmed down at all, and in fact, the movie has gotten more merciless. I will refrain from describing what happens in this scene, but I feel inclined to note that after witnessing such a shock, I would prefer never to use, let alone touch a pair of scissors ever again. It’s scenes like this especially that make “Antichrist” an unbearable movie. It has no regard for its audience, what they can handle, and in its candid depictions of humanity’s evils, it becomes an evil movie. But it’s also a wholly intriguing, unflinching, beautiful, and horrifyingly honest movie. Even when you most want to turn it off, “Antichrist” is a masterpiece.