Life as it ain't

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Antichrist: Into (an) Eden

Posted by Ronak M Soni on March 26, 2010

Originally published at PassionforCinema.

Antichrist, 2009, 104 min

Written and Directed by Lars von Trier

Muriel Award-Winning Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle

Story (taken from IMDb): A grieving couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) retreats to their cabin in the woods, hoping to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse.

An unforgettable moment; look closely at those in the background.

I started watching Antichrist with no expectations whatsoever about quality; I’d read that it was a beautiful movie, I’d read that it was a piece of tasteless porn, and I’d also read that it was nothing worth our time. The only expectation I had was that it would be sickeningly violent. Antichrist’s success, for me, lies in the fact that it belied all of the aforementioned opinions.

I’m convinced that my age had something to do with this. Being only eighteen, there are some aspects of the human experience that are yet beyond me, and probably this movie taps into some deep fears in that part, making the movie horrific – not too much of a wonder, it’s almost sitcommy how much the woman distrusts the man – rather than just plain dreadful like it was for me; I was thinking don’t do it but there was nothing like look away. If you actually count the acts of violence, there is a sum total of three, and only one of them is as horrific as some critics would have us believe.

To do with sitcoms, I’m actually beginning to see a deeper parallel now. If you’ve ever watched a sitcom, you’ll know that they are almost misogynistic in their portrayal of urban women as neurotic little upstarts out to rule the sensible even if flawed men. You’ll find the parallel to have a true enough ring if you ever watch the movie.

In fact, in that way, it’s also the opposite of noir. A sort of reverse noir, if you will. Noir is about men who don’t understand, and therefore trust, the world around them, a distrust the cherry on top of which is that of women – specifically, that of the femme fatale. Antichrist, in contrast, is about the woman’s distrust of a man who more than adequately understands her, but whom she has no capacity to understand.

If noir is from the point of view of the men, Antichrist is – as much as this movie can be said to have a point of view – from the point of view of the woman. The whole movie, Willem Dafoe’s man is distant and clinical, a two-dimensional piece. Poor Dafoe has little to do, but rarely has little been done this well. Charlotte Gainsbourg, by contrast, got a role complex enough to win a completely deserved 2009 Muriel Award for her portrayal of the woman.

But all that’s sideline. The real point of this movie is the death of humanity, the death of humanity by distrust, of others too but primarily of oneself. I said that the woman doesn’t understand the man. The truth is that she, more importantly, doesn’t have the slightest clue about herself either, just like the men in noir. That’s why the movie progresses the way it does; it’s the chronicle of a woman who has completely lost trust in herself.

That’s why it’s called Antichrist; these two are to the Antichrist as Adam and Eve are to the Christ. Adam and Eve (symbolically) begun humanity; these two (symbolically) end it.

Adam and Eve have no history. These two are completely history; he’s American, she’s English, suggesting a history of metaphorical colonisation and breaking free.

But that’s still not the most profoundly disturbing thing about the movie. That would be the fact that it tries to disguise itself under the form of a horror movie. A train journey flashes images of cruelty, most of the music is the tail end of a gong, the house in Eden is continuously bombarded by acorns, ears of corn spontaneously grow on the man’s hand … the list could go on. But the fact is that all this eeriness is but a sheer veneer, a cover for the real melancholy only allowed to come to fruition in the prologue and epilogue.

If there’s a problem with the movie, it’s that it fails to attain beauty. The meaning feels tacked on; it differentiates itself from reverse noir in only the name, two shots and an epilogue. Which is a pity, because here we have a movie that spells out for us what’s going to come to pass during the climax and then completely blindsides us after. Good enough, but not perfect like it would be if the blindside grew out of the movie.

No one seems to quite agree with me: Roger Ebert, James Berardinelli, S M Rana.

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6 Responses to “Antichrist: Into (an) Eden”

  1. Lars von Trier certainly likes to shock, and use imagery that is bizarre, twisted, and may or may not be symbolic. In a documentary film that I saw on him, he says that he has to make movies to stay sane, because he has so many phobias. No wonder that even his first film, The Element of Crime, has a nightmarish feel to it.

    As for your review, you may only be eighteen, but you’ve described this movie more clearly to me than any other reviewer that you list above. Bravo. 🙂

  2. S M Rana said

    Interpreting/evaluating a film is somewhat like the elephant and the six blind men—one can read anything into anything, and depends on what you are holding.

  3. That, SM, is what I think of as the beauty of criticism; even the least personal piece of articulation has everything about you in it. Which bit of the elephant you hold on to is almost completely a function of who you are.
    For me, a beautiful review is not one that interprets the movie well, it is one that describes perfectly the writer’s feelings towards the movie; interpretation is just an aspect of feeling. After all, as you so like to say, it is in the most specific that the most universal lies.

    LD:
    Thanks.
    Even Woody Allen claims that his movies have such a therapeutic effect on him.

  4. Stephen said

    Very interesting, Ronak.

    Some things I hadn’t considered or come across before (calling it a ‘reverse noir’ and the bit on him being American and her being English). You’re both right I think when it comes interpretation and evaluation – but that’s just my interpetration(!)

    I wrote a brief review on Antichrist myself, if you’d like a look.

    http://checkingonmysausages.blogspot.com/2009/11/antichrist-2009-lars-von-trier-couples.html

    P.S. I’ve put your Inglourious Basterds image up. Thanks again.

  5. S M Rana said

    All the best for your exams?

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