Director: Lars Von Trier
Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle
Screenwriter: Lars von Trier
Antichrist is the first Von Trier film I’ve ever seen, and coming into the film I had to get over the notion that he’s more than just a smut-film director and that he only dabbled in the grotesque due to lack of compulsion in his narrative storytelling. But after seeing Antichrist, I believe all my preconceived notions about his films have been rendered utterly false. This is the closest thing I’ve seen to a modern-day Tarkovsky film, who this film is lovingly dedicated to in the ending credits.
Now, Tarkovsky wouldn’t have made a film this graphic in nature, but there’s so many elements taken from von Trier’s outward love for Tarkovsky that show up in this picture. The first and most obvious is the idea of a specific space being able to manipulate a human mind. This is Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ or his other famous Sci-Fi, ‘Solaris,’ and it’s what separated him as a storyteller and allowed him to fully explore the depths of his creativity.
I see very much the same thing here with von Trier and ‘Antichrist.’ The moment this film turns into a nightmarish dream sequence as if the trees of the forest were tempting the characters to enter. As Charlotte Gainsbourg character relays to the audience, “you were so damn arrogant bringing us here,” referring to Willem Dafoe’s character attempting to ease her grief by bringing her to a place of solitude and remembrance.
Dafoe’s character, returning back to Tarkovsky, is of an intellectual-kind, similar to how I see Anatoly Solonitsyn is Solaris and Stalker. The therapist who is too smart for his own good. The therapist that treats his wife as a patient more than a wife. The more his character is developed the harsher the separation between her and him become as he examines her mental state constantly. It’s a bombardment of therapy sessions that help drive the madness of the third and second act.
While the film can be uneven, mashing intense horror imagery with the quaint love-affair of wife-and-husband, it does do a rather good job of slowly etching a divide. As Dafoe’s character unveils more about their current situation, the larger the divide grows as she grows tired of his arrogance. The added element of tempting the darkness within the woods leads to some of the most horrifying, gruesome scenes I’ve ever seen.
The buildup to terribly shocking final act was superb in this case, and it doesn’t entirely hit you until one of the most gruesome scenes of all-time flashes before your very eyes. I still throw up in my mouth thinking back on that scene and guys will understand the EXACT MOMENT where I almost fainted. Truly some horrifying, somewhat scarring images, that are now forever burned into my brain.
Onto the performance, it’s a character study on a relationship that is driven by an undercurrent of evil. The beautiful aspect of these performances is that both do such a magnificent job at pulling back on that hatred, allowing the audience to explore them, without being engaged in the horror. I genuinely felt a connection and anger towards each other.
However, the standout was Dafoe’s deep-cut therapist. The audience experiences the terrible reality of this place and the reality that comes from his wife’s psychotic nature. The scene where Dafoe’s character realizes that she put their babies shoes on backward was brilliance from Dafoe. His entire world was shattered in that instance, but there’s no overreaction. His entire performance was concealed beautifully allowing the audience to come to their own conclusions. Then, Charlotte Gainsbourg steals the ending with a truly mind-bending, pure horror performance. Purely horrifying work.
Lastly, the job of Lars von Trier is spectacular here. While some of the animation and visual effects are quite ridiculous, most of the abstract qualities of the film are inserted perfectly to help conceal aspects of the story. The entire time they were in the woods, the film had the most unsettling feeling: the acorns, Dafoe’s nightmares, and the slow revelation of what really happened to their child. It’s subtle and incredibly haunting filmmaking.
Dream sequences, and in this case, entering a dream-like space in the physical world, are a favorite of mine in the world of film. This film does one of the better jobs of bringing you into that world. For instance, the opening scene: the passion, the despair, and the wickedness are all tightly packed into this wonderfully meaningful scene that has huge implications near the end of this film
I highly recommend this film. It’s obviously not a film that every person will enjoy, and some will be downright offended by the subject matter, but it’s beautiful abstract art that manages to tell a compelling narrative with layered characters. It’s graphic to the point of gagging, but this film eases you into it before unleashing pure evil.