Antichrist is a movie by Lars Von Trier. The movie begins with an all black and white prologue that is simultaneously beautiful, sad, and disturbing. It is a harbinger of the uncensored and discomforting nature of the rest of the movie; I was hooked within 5 minutes. For those of you who do not know this, I have been amped to see this movie since it caused such a ruckus at its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival. I heard that it was violent and distressing; the trailer told me it would be frightening and surreal. None of that was enough to ease me into what transpired in the hour and 40 or so minutes that Antichrist lasts for. It is not only an examination of grief and mourning but also of relationships (professional, medical, and romantic), fear and coping with fear, the nature of evil, women, and nature (and more specifically the invisible binding between those last three things, and that brings us to contemplate a word Von Trier uses in the movie: “gynocide”). The strong themes are stirred by Von Trier via the alluring and haunting imagery he presents to us on screen, each frame striking in its own right. Although altogether the plot’s pieces do not seem to perfectly fit (to some, at least) and it may seem that not all ends are tied, it is up to the viewer to read into those striking frames and come to their own conclusions not only about the nature of the couple in the story but also one’s own beliefs surrounding womanhood, the natural world, and evil. I am walking away from Antichrist with certain images seared into my mind, and that is the way it should be. But I am also walking away with a profound sense of poetry and a riled inner dialogue concering the ever-present conflict of gender and society.
There has been a lot of flack given Von Trier about Antichrist. Does the movie go too far? Is it too disturbing? Is it misogynistic? These last questions are truths to many people who have viewed the film. I, on the other hand, disagree. I don’t at all believe that the movie goes too far in its gore or its theme. Certainly there are parts of the movie that are hard to stomach. The reason for its shocking and disturbing affects on the viewer is because it has no soundtrack, is filmed with a handheld camera, yes the content is severe and unpleasant, but most of all the context in which this gore is viewed hits close to home because it feels so real. I want to call your attention to the fact that this is an art house film, not a Hollywood thriller that saturates the viewer with violence a la Hostel and the Saw flicks, nor is it an exploitation film. That leads me to my next point regarding whether or not Antichrist is misogynistic.
I have already said that the movie is up for interpretation, but I will clarify my point of view and say that I certainly do not believe it is a misogynistic film. I believe that the plight of the couple in the film, played superbly by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, highlights an outstanding and long-lasting relationship between women and nature, and how together they are percieved as of or relating to evil according to Judeo-Christian mythology. These things together are inherent in peoples’ perception of gender, and Von Trier is bringing that to light in this film. Certainly the relationship between Gainsbourg and Dafoe can be considered the strereotypical female-male relationship in Western society to an extreme. The women is hysterical, overcome with emotion, fear, guilt, and grief. The man is logical, rational, and is stepping in to save the situation, be the hero. The way in which Dafoe forces treatment upon Gainsbourg is highly inappropriate, yes. The way in which Gainsbourg acts is manic and irrational, one might say so. The metaphor is made that “nature is Satan’s church.” Taken seprately these pieces might seem misogynistic, but one must look at the whole picture. Von Trier, like any artist, is taking that which is a shocking and hard truth in our society and unveiling it, shining a light upon it, forcing us to examine that with which we live. Finally, I would like to talk about the epilogue of the movie. The last scene is Dafoe standing in a sort of clearing in the forest and from every direction faceless women in all manner of clothing are approaching him and passing by him. All of them are faceless. To me this is a reminder of all the victims of misogyny throughout history, anonymous women who have suffered gynocide.
It is all about intention. I do not believe Von Trier intended to make a movie that would uphold misogynistic values. And even if he did, I intend to see past that and consider the issue at heart: gender and crimes against women in our society, and what can we do to internalize those wrongs and put an end to them.