Since his debut, Lars von Tier has developed a little bit of a niche for himself in creating richly bizarre material and boldly working with unconventional subject-matter.
Other than Antichrist, Lars is also known for Melancholia and Nymphomaniac, each dealing with deep, dark subject-matter in their own ways. This film, Antichrist, marks the first of his catalog I’d seen, and I was excited to see what exactly his reputation entailed.
Antichrist is a 2009 Danish experimental horror film, starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
As prefaced, Antichrist fits the description offered of Lars von Trier’s filmmaking. The film is about a couple that is faced with the tragic death of their child and dealing with the repercussions and grief struck by that event. Willem Dafoe plays a therapist who has taken it upon himself to try and offer aid to his wife as her depression worsens. His wife, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, understandably hurt my her child’s death, has a whole other can of worms to unpack on a psychological front as well. They retreat to a cabin in a woods and begin her rehabilitation, but, once there, are met by peculiar visions as the wife begins to display increasingly violent tendencies and instances of sadomasochism.
Straightaway, I found myself interested in this film. Willem Dafoe brings his best, and Charlotte Gainsbourg does well as the downtrodden ball of mystery. I found myself thoroughly enjoying the first-half of Antichrist. Seeing how defeated the wife is, and how stubbornly the husband tries to stitch her back together on his own, seeming patient in his approach yet snobby in the approaches done by other doctors. As of the film progresses, however, it does begin to divert away from that, becoming something very different.
It’s arguable that it actually swallows its tail thereafter, so to speak. Rather than a psychedelic, trippy look at depression, held together by the glue of strong performances, it becomes something a lot more chaotic and unhinged. Although there is no doubt what happens after the first half is what helps the film earn the name Antichrist and is what makes it a more potent topic of discussion, I feel like it was an unrestrained, undisciplined decision that ultimately represented a downward decline in my enjoyment.
It isn’t necessarily that what’s happening isn’t compelling, but, rather, that it feels more nonsensical and surrealist than having a central point at the heart of it. Maybe that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, however. Although Antichrist throws a million different things into it that feel like symbolism or as though they have some type of biblical significance, I also believe Lars von Trier when he says in interviews he has no idea what Antichrist is actually about. It is a double-edged sword, however, and that sense of surrealism and ambiguity can look like throwing things at a wall and not caring whether they stick.
The atmosphere and cinematography for Antichrist is noteworthy and unique, accomplishing that experimental and unique feel I longed for. Even when this film feels like it needs to rein it’s director’s worst impulses, it never feels the least bit dull or uninventive in its approach. It uses its camerawork as something more than merely a tool to point and shoot, and I have a lot of gratitude for that.
This is definitely a harsh film (it had to earn its namesake, after all) and does so through definite gratuity, but it’s also a film that feels more memorable and distinct for having that barbarity.
By the end, Antichrist is a mixed-bag, in my opinion. I went into it, taken in by the performances, approaching it as what I thought would be a calculated, taut look into the depths of depression, and that, ultimately, isn’t what it amounted to. Instead, it’s about half that, with the other half being a much more experimental, dark, and abstract film that’ll leave you with a proper Michael Myers’ head tilt as you try to make sense of it. I both appreciate it for that and wished it could have reeled it in for a little more clarity.