Thursday, November 05, 2009

On Antichrist- spoilers

My auteur bunch is really failing me lately. First, there was the head-scratcher from the Coen Brothers and now Lars vonTrier generates this controversial and altogether hokey semblance of... a Bergman film?.... an avant garde horror film?... or is he just having another big laugh? I won't deny that there's a strange power to certain segments of "Antichrist" (namely the final sequence with a horde of faceless women climbing a mountain), but overall, von Trier's latest left me cold.

There are two ways one can read "Antichrist". Taken seriously, it reads something like this: Like some of the best work of David Lynch including "Mulholland Drive" and "Inland Empire", von Trier's "Antichrist" exists somewhere between reality and psychological breakdown. With the lines blurred, it allows the director to fade in and out of naturalism, surrealism and, in the case of the talking fox in "Antichrist", outright absurd ism. Re-watching the Lynch films mentioned, I certainly see a link between some of the hidden references in both films. If you pay close enough attention, you can almost tell where the fissures inside Naomi Watson's character breaks open into la-la-land. There's a distinct purpose in alot of the visual and aural madness. With "Antichrist", I don't know if repeat viewings will substantiate any thoughtful undercurrents. Honestly, I don't have the energy to try. If we relate the violent and unsettling events in "Antichrist" directly to the grief-stricken, fractured mind of the woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg), then von Trier can mix up a huge cocktail of irrelevant images, stifled emotions and confusing analogies in the hopes of labeling his film as a psychotic exploration of a deteriorating mind. In short, this gives a film the license to be pretentious, awkward or passionately non-linear. Art students have been doing that for years. But strangely, out of the two possibilities of reading this film, it works the best in this light. The whole film very well may exist only in the head of Gainsbourg, and that succinctly explains the talking fox and her overwhelming desire to squash her husband's penis then drill a concrete block through his leg. For the sake of world cinema, this type of silly symbolism plays like gangbusters.

Secondly, "Antichrist" could be just another litmus test for American audiences. As a huge von Trier admirer until the early 00's, he seemed to go off the deep end around 1999, after the smashing success of "Dancer In the Dark". Though some of his subsequent films have its ardent admirers, "The Idiots", "Dogville", "Manderlay" and "The Boss Of It All", require loads of patience. The synopsis of "The Idiots"- a film in which a group of people run rampant around a city, babbling incoherently and disrupting its way of life- seems to be the cinematic mantra of von Trier. With "Antichrist", he's upped the ante with name stars and some CGI effects, but he's still the proverbial bull in the china shop. I can easily see "Antichrist" being fired up in circles for years to come, playing as a comedy. Hell, there's already a t-shirt.

"Antichrist" is not the worst film of the year, or even close. It's one of those meh 2 star things that picks at you because it's from the creative hand of a director you once greatly admired. Yes, Dafoe and Gainsbourg act their hearts out with the conviction of really tormented people, and it features a stunning prologue and epilogue in shimmering black and white that immediately sets the tone for something great. And while the visual trademark of von Trier for the past decade has been the hand-held jerky thing, catching images on the fly and cutting after every sentence spoken by the actors, "Antichrist" is compellingly static for the most part. His camera has meaning in certain parts. One of the most striking shots in the entire film is the subtle moment as the camera virtually sits atop the casket of their dead son, peering out the back window as man and woman walk in grief behind it. Gainsbourg falls to the ground and the camera makes a wild little verge to catch her, then rests back atop the casket. In a film chock full of wanna-be-horrific images, this small moment has stuck with me the most. If everything in "Antichrist" had been handled with this emotional intellectualism, then maybe I'd be talking about the latest von Trier masterpiece.

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