When I first watched Antichrist in November, I literally sat for five minutes after the end credits began to roll just to think about what I had just seen. I thought it was a good movie, but far from my understanding. This film just seemed to pile on one confusing and deeply symbolic scene after the other, and as someone who loves movies that make you think, the meaning of this film seemed to be out of my grasp. More than a month and one extra viewing later, I still do not know the director’s intent for making this film, but I have began to appreciate Antichrist as a work of art.
Directed by Lars Von Trier, this shadowy, disturbing combination between horror, thriller, romance, and art-house movie tells the seemingly simple story of a husband and wife, who go unnamed throughout the movie. Willem Dafoe plays the husband who is billed as “He” and Charlotte Gainsbourg as his wife, “She”. Their son, who is named Nic, is only present in the first five minutes and briefly throughout, and is played by a child who seems to be around five years old, Storm Sahlstrom. The first five minutes are shot in slow-motion and black-and-white and show their son falling out of a window to his death, after walking out of his crib to get a stuffed animal. While this tragedy happens, the husband and wife are ignorant of what is unfolding as they are busy having sex. From then on out, sex and agony become the focal points of the story, as the wife becomes severely depressed and stricken with grief. Her husband, who is a therapist, begins to console and treat her.
When he realizes his treatment is not working, they two go to a remote cabin in the woods, a spot where they used to visit before their son died. The isolation was initially used for the wife to write her thesis on Gynocide, which is the mass killing of women; an example of women being burned in the 16th century inquisition is given. She then begins to obsess over the evil of women, and sees herself as such. Dafoe then tries to get her to face her fears and try to realize what makes her afraid. After going through several guesses at what her fear actually is, it is revealed that nature is the one, and as she says, “Nature is Satan’s church”. As the movie goes by, he asks her to pretend that he is nature so she can take out her anger on him. This idea yields results, but not in the way he wanted.
Antichrist is broken down into six parts: a prologue, Chapter One: Grief, Chapter Two: Pain (Chaos Rains), Chapter Three: Despair (Gynocide), Chapter Four: The Three Beggars, and an epilogue. Each of these is beautifully illustrated with an eerie title card, to match the rest of the film. To say this movie is visually stunning would be an understatement. The slow-motion sequences and darkly contrasted shots of nature are a feast for the eyes. The acting is also very good in an awkward sort of way. Dafoe and Gainsbourg never really show much chemistry together, but I wonder if that was Von Trier’s intention.
I would recommend this movie for an art or film class for deeper study of the symbolism throughout and of the brilliant cinematography, but please be aware that there are more than a few sex and nude scenes, two of which include genital mutilation. I would not consider these scenes gratuitous because they are central to the storyline, but be advised that this film was not rated by the MPAA (a refreshing change of pace) and certain, disturbing scenes reflect that. I will rate this film an 8 out of 10 because of how clever and stunning the story is. I only wish they delved deeper into the inquisition and witch-burnings, sketches of which were shown in the wife’s thesis notebook. It would have only served to enhance an already horrific movie. Still, don’t be fooled: this is not a horror movie and should not be treated as such—this is modern-day art-house at it’s finest.
This movie debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 and only played in a reported six theaters in the United States. It was finally released to DVD in 2010, with Criterion Collection picking it up in November. It has since been nominated for 30 awards (winning 17) in various film festivals and award shows around the world.