Thursday, May 5, 2011

Antichrist (Lars von Trier)

'He' and a 'Hailstorm'.

"Antichrist" is, beyond Lars von Trier's titular allusion to religion, a harsh, denigrating and sadomasochistic exploration of the psycho-sexual landscape. At certain points, as far as descriptive cliches are concerned, this film is like a combination of Raimi's solitary horror (as displayed in "Evil Dead") and some gutsy bits of de Sade. It's relentless in its graphic nature, uninhibited in its sexuality, yet particularly hopeful in its catharsis.

Lars von Trier, who recently stated that he'll never make another film with a happy ending, convincingly pulled off a satisfying conclusion to such a crazy, debauchery-filled film such as "Antichrist". It's Dante's Inferno all over again, filled with ambiguously disturbing psychological insights that may not translate well into reality (it's a bizarre fantasy, after all), but still a balanced approach to human nature's unpredictability.

The film opened with a slow-motion, black-and-white, 'perfume commercial'-like sequence of 'He' and 'She's' lovemaking. Unbeknown to them, their infant son is already climbing into a table and reaching into a window. The child then accidentally falls into his death. Through this ironic juxtaposition, von Trier has captured it with a sense of hypocritical artistry. As 'He' and 'She' are engaging in a charged, 'not-a-care-in-the-world' intercourse, it was accompanied by a beautiful heavenly music. While on the other hand, 'death' is happening in the other room, with the child symbolically shoving the figures of the three beggars (representing 'grief', 'pain', and 'despair') atop the table down to the floor.

The lack of care was highlighted as the two characters' sexual vigor completely engulfs their care for their child. Is it a pitiful tragedy on their part or not? For 'She', it was unbearable, so the couple went into their cabin in the woods for some reflection and, hopefully, to cleanse off the tragic residues and heal emotional wounds.

With the main 'woods' setting simply labeled as "Eden", and the two characters solely called as 'He' and 'She' (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg in such unrestricted performances), von Trier is seemingly up to no good. With too many thematic possibilities out there to tread, he chose to mercilessly destroy the idea of the thousand-year parable of "Genesis". But in the film's context, it's not the fruit that has turned the two characters into sinners but the raw fragility of the mind. He (von Trier) snobs the cliches that 'dreams' are the catalysts of psychology and goes straight into abstraction; he blended reality with the subconscious materialization of the psyche, resulting in a bluntly caustic depiction of a gender-dictated netherworld of phobias and fantasies that even went into the extremes of gynocidal fanaticism.

"Antichrist" is not your typical 'horror' film or 'psychological thriller' (IMDb being clever and knowing enough not to label it as 'horror'), it's way more than that. At certain moments, it even tackled the pathetic consequences of misled fatalism. The film is such a thematically layered piece of auteur work that just happens to be masquerading as a show-off of 'shock-a-minute' senselessness.

"Antichrist" is never biblical nor a religious challenge to the higher echelons of Christianity. And though admittedly blasphemous at times, it never ridicules the idea of it. Von Trier and his film is too consummately drawn into the powerful magnet of dark psychological stirs and its toll on the rationality of man that it dared not to look back.

To the detractors, you may ask, "why is this film even in contention to win the Palme d'Or in 2009?" To be honest, upon my initial look into this film, I also asked myself the same. But after looking thoroughly deep enough into what this film has got to say, the question has since faded. "Antichrist" is truly gut-churning as it is an exercise of strange cinematic eloquence.


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