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Chaos Reigns in AntiChrist: A Movie Review
A Picturesque Mother and Son
We are never given the names of these two characters, who are simply known as HE and SHE.
The Sex scenes in the film are un-simulated and authentic.
The Graphic sex scenes at the beginning are there to allow the viewers to identify with the corresponding area's, so that by the end, ie genital mutilation, we are more horrified by the action. Its the juxtaposition of identifying with gender parts, then seeing them tore apart and cut off.
What appears to be shoddy editing in parts is purposeful throughout. The scenes that look like there are hundreds of continuity errors are placed there to create the feeling of unease, and alarm.
A Little Introduction...
Antichrist (2009) is a film by Lars Von Trier, a remarkable director but easily the Marmite of the film world, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe. Its categorized as a horror film, but having seen it a couple of times, I'd call it a dramatic, almost Shakespearean thriller, with a horrific ending. The film centers, explicitly, around a young couple, made obvious by the blurring of every other characters face, save for their child.
It begins in Black and White, with classic opera music playing, and the couple in the passionate throws of love making, all in super slow motion, its poetic and elegant giving a romanticized view of the couple. We are then bombarded with a penetration shot, not what we expect from a film of this calibre, or anything outside of pornography really. While the couple throw themselves around the house, their son, still a toddler, makes his way to a window. He climbs up, opens it and falls out, which then sets up for the rest of the film. It's a memorable opening scene, with scolding irony placed onto both parents. Life and death are juxtaposed blatantly in this first scene, as the couples climax is simultaneous to their child's fall.
Dealing with Trauma:
Its difficult to discern which character is the primary character, as both play equally relevant and important roles in the story. It begins with the wife falling behind the hearse carrying her dead son, after which she is admitted to hospital. Its in this room that we learn a little about each character. Her husband, a psychiatrist of sorts,probably a drop out (since he works off of crude pyramid graphs to decipher his wives fear, and sleeps with her after saying it would ruin her chances of getting better) , decides to take her off her medication, as her grief is being bottled up under the drugs. He takes her out of the hospital where he can look after her full time and get to the root of her fears.
Its appropriate to note here the title of the film and what it means. Antichrist, some view as the epitome of all evil, in relation to God and Christianity, but the original Greek translation reads more like opposed to Christ, the opposite of the magical, devilish creature of hell, but equally as explosive in evilness. Throughout the film we are given two different portrayals of this evil. One in the husband, and the other in the wife. The husband, who should know better than treat a family member in psychiatric matters, and the mother who we find out later mistreated and ignored her son.
The wife is beside herself with sadness and grief so much so that it appears as physical pain, we see her shuddering, breathing heavily, writhing and sweating. And yet, her husband tells her that this sadness she feels cannot hurt her if she opens up to it. He asks her "What are you afraid of?", to which the response should be obvious, the death of her son. Yet neither acknowledge this as something to fear. He maintains a casual, doctor like distance from his new patient, who seems only interested in her because of this psychological breakdown, as she says she feels he was never there for her or Nic, the son "I never interested you till now. Now I’m your patient." Since the death of his child, and the breakdown of his wife, he rarely leaves her alone, constantly bombarding her with questions and ridiculous therapies: bringing her to a place she fears the most, Eden. On their way there, she explains she is afraid of certain areas leading up their cabin, in the secluded garden of Eden. As they pass these fear filled places like the bridge or the old tree stump, he insists she take her time getting by them, making her live through each gruelling second of, apparently, her worst fears. Eden, of course, represents the fall of man and woman, which is exactly what one should be expecting when they hear this name.
Eden, A Place of Horror and Abominations
Symbolism in Eden:
Once in Eden, HE finds his way to the shed, where he carefully touches his toolbox, to see if it has been tampered with? To touch something that's his alone? I'm not sure, but it was oddly jarring to watch. He finds his way to the attic, where SHE had been working on her thesis the previous summer with Nic. The husband stayed behind, and in a scene that explains a lot of their relationship, SHE tells her husband that she never finished it, much to his surprise. For her not to have told him suggests a strained relationship, but for him to have not noticed, suggests neglect and disregard, he didn't care either way. In the attic he looks through her notes, which all appear childish, with cutouts depicting women burned and killed, scribbled notes on paper and general chaotic researching.
It appears her research caused her to regress psychologically. Where we are taught there is both good and evil in the world from a young age, she comes to the conclusion that everything is inherently evil. We learn that SHE neglected her son, by putting his shoes on the wrong feet, causing a deformation. We also see a snippet from the beginning scene of HER watching as her son as he climbed to the window and fell out. She becomes the evil she sought to dispute in her thesis research.
The chaos begins only after SHE announces one morning "I'm cured!" as she dances around the grass, runs and jumps on the once terrifying bridge and delights in the wonders of nature. Her husbands 'science' has worked and thus, without her fear of Eden, another fear emerges. A fear that HE will leave her.
As She deals with these issues, HE finds himself in similar places of chaos and abomination. He see's animals, a deer, fox and bird, enduring unimaginable pains, the fox eats itself, the deer runs off with a foetus hanging from its rear, and a bald, baby bird fallen from its next is swarmed with ants before being picked up and eaten by a hawk. There is also a crow that Defoe has to beat to death to save his life. What do these represent? In the film, they are named 'The Three Beggars', They portray grief, pain and suffering. In Russian folklore they represent the spreading of wisdom and compassion through suffering. However, a more apt description of these animals lies in the depiction of the woman, they are the epitome of her acceptance of her evilness. She accepts evil, thus evil exists where once we saw only nature and purity.
If we are also to take from the title, the role of Christianity, then the Three Beggars symbolize the opposite to what the Three wise men symbolized. They brought their own gifts to the birth of Christ, so too do the Beggars bring gifts to the birth of the AntiChrist, the man and wife. The Three Wise Men portrayed the birth, while the Thee Beggars portray death. Eden depicts the macabre world created apparently by Satan, as SHE says "Nature is Satan's church". Since they are surrounded by nothing but nature, both characters are harassed with images of disorder and evil, and animals that declare that "Chaos Reigns" in the word they inhabit.
History Against Women:
So what do we know about the world these characters inhabit? It's an inverse world where Satan Rules and Chaos Reigns. Its the exploration of a possibility, not a description of REALITY, or a reflection of our world. Where Eve was the mother of humanity, SHE is the antithesis is this thought. The mother of all INHUMANITY. The film also offers a description of Misogyny in this sense. While in most of the world, EVE or the Greek version, PANDORA are to blame for the fall of man, so too is SHE in AntiChrist. It could be taken as a man who blames his wife for the death of their child, so drives her to madness to lay the blame solely on her. Again, the blaming of woman for the fall of man, or in this case, the fall of Nic. Yet, I feel that is too straightforward an analysis for this film.
Of course we figure out that SHE became scared of EDEN from her discovery the previous year there. SHE fears the evil that religion attributed to women through their connection with nature,as all women are susceptible to nature, through Menstruation. "Women do not control their own bodies, nature does".
Throughout History women were seen as being controlled by their womb, thus by nature. Hysteria, a disease attributed solely to women because of their ability to menstruate, a disease that was thought to be controlled by the womb, was cured through Clitorectomy's. Taking a woman's natural sexuality saves them from insanity.
In AntiChrist, SHE performs this action on herself, as punishment for her sexual drive, after she asks her husband to hit her during sex, for the same reason. Sexual displays were the defining symptom of insanity in women for centuries.
A Mans World:
Intense, Brutal Violence: BEWARE!
The final twenty minutes of this film will stick with you for years to come, if you managed to keep your eyes open for it. While the majority of the film was drama like, the finale is a horror like no other. After SHE decides she can't let HIM leave (or wont let him leave as she later screams "Where are you? You said you would help me"), she crushes his testicles with a wooden block to castrate him for his patriarchal control over her and woman's body, before stimulating his unconscious body until it bleeds, an act of sexual assault. She drills a hole through his leg, then attaches a weight to it with a bolt, so that he has no escape.
Soon after, she walks to a scissors, lies beside HIM and performs her own castration, as punishment for allowing her body to indulge in personal (not productive) pleasure. In the climatic ending, he chokes her to death, before, symbolically burning her body, bringing our minds back to the cut-out pictures strewn across the attic of witch hunts and genocide towards women. It seems the cause of HER downfall, as opposed to HIS, was her husbands,( or MANS) incessant need to psychoanalyze women's inherent issues, and categorize them in a mans world. This was proved in HIS attempt to control her treatment, and his insistence that she take his word rather than understand the concept herself.
The Women of The World
While SHE Dies, and HE survives, the victor over chaos, the ending is a perplexing one. We see HIM stagger through the oods, eating berries off plants and sitting among nature, now apparently back to a world created by God, because the evil, his wife is burned to ashes.
This final shot brings us full circle with the same song as the beginning playing, black and white, slow motion, and women with blurred faces surround him, coming to mourn another sister who has descended to madness due to a patriarchal world.
It's a claustrophobic film because of its dreamlike surreal feeling. It's a battle of the sexes like no other. While everything appears chaotic and disturbed, its also notably thought out and planned. I love the fact so many people misinterpreted the film, either in its message, its editing, or its symbolism, as it proves people are only willing to accept films that are placed in the reality we, as an audience, acknowledge as possible and can easily understand. This film is not easily understood, there are still many things about it I wish I could understand, but simply can't put into words how it affects me.
The visual art throughout the entire film is a testament to the creativity Von Trier and his DOP Anthony Dod Mantle. The imagery of HER walking, white dress flowing slowly, over the bridge and through the woods are spectacular, so even if you don't get the film, its easy to acknowledge and applaud its beauty. There are certain aspects of the film that capture me the most. Its message about violence in films being one major point. AntiChrist goes beyond horrific violence as a way of scolding audiences for watching such things. The title, misleading in various ways, promotes a bloody, violent film, so why close your eyes when this violence actually happens? Were you not expecting it? Or were you simply put off because of the calibre of the violence. Whichever, its surely obvious that 'Torture Porn' has become a massive genre with cult followers of its own, so why the sudden backlash at a film that simply perpetuates this?
My opinion? I think people had a hard time dealing with the fact that a woman, arguably with some mental illness (but not definitely, remember, hysteria was thought as a women's disease, one that SHE portrayed, but modern psychoanalysis proves that these are simply emotions, that can be felt by men and women) gained power over a man (or the patriarchy) and his sexual impulses, by torturing him, castrating him, abusing him and literally holding him to ground after she attached the weight to his leg, then by punishing herself for her sexuality, thus taking that power out of her husbands hands. SHE raised her status as higher by keeping his low and not allowing him to control her de-sexualization, something men throughout history have done themselves, such as Aristotle, Plato and even Hitler who each gave demonstrations of attempting to de-sexualize women. Aristotle wrote that man has everything he needs to create another human, save for an environment, or natural incubator. Plato wrote of a utopia where women were completely de-sexualized for the purpose of creating an equal society. even Hitler attempted the same by trying to control what women wore, i.e. make up and jewellery.
So in all, its an exceptional feat of film making. the plot through to post production was almost surgical in its depiction of the male versus female and nature versus nurture. If you, like myself, are not a fan of horror, or torture films, then I would say keep an open mind. it all has a purpose, and the violence of this film is extremely important in perpetuating the woman equals evil theory. On the other hand, if you are a fan of graphic violence, and torture films like 'Hostel' then this definitely isn't the film for you, unless your willing to sit through an hour of psychological husband/wife drama before getting to the 'good stuff' (I say sarcastically, it's not good!).
So, if your sitting up, rain outside, nothing to do, looking or a thrill, the yes, this is a film I would stick on (I don't know what that says about me?!). Understandably, many viewers of the film probably wouldn't stick it on a second, or even third time, to analyse it more, but there you have it, I like bizarre films! :)
Everything in the film, although it appears as disorienting and dreamlike, has a point. The slow, drama like story of the first half gives way to a climatic ending that no film can ever top. As I said before, the aesthetic beauty of this film is unmatched in films of similar genres, ('Paris, Texas' was similar in beauty) and so, even though there's so much more to this film than I'l ever be able to comprehend myself, five out of five seems too little a rating. It goes above and beyond what film calls for, and its personally my favorite film of all time. If I could go to a six out of 5 I would without a second hesitation!
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