Twitter Plot Summary: Messed up goings on and mental health issues plague a couple on their log cabin escape.
A man, Willem Dafoe, and his wife, Charlotte Gainsbourg, retreat to a log cabin after the death of their young son in Antichrist. He is a psychologist and she is an academic student, with him choosing to dance along the border between maintaining a detached, professional attitude to his wife’s problems whilst trying to maintain their physical and emotional relationship. Suffice to say, bearing in mind this is also called Antichrist, he doesn’t succeed in this endeavour.
The problem is that there are some really good moments dotted throughout Antichrist, but they are often tarnished by others that are either needlessly violent, slightly ridiculous or borderline misogynistic. Shots of hardcore sex (albeit briefly) or gratuitous violence perhaps push the boat out too far, and are then met by talking foxes on the path towards insanity. You might never look at Yves’ “The Fox (What Does It Say?)” in the same way again.
At the same time it is very easy to appreciate the filmmaking ability and talents of Lars Von Trier. He may have dubious personal values which leak into his films, but they often look great and have a very unique style. He’s not afraid to break the usual tropes of cinema by jump-cutting several times within a scene, then going full arthouse in others. The opening sequence, playing out in a slow motion black and white world reminiscent of Sin City, is perhaps the best looking part of the film, but other dreamlike sequences dotted throughout have a similar sort of effect. His origins as one of the founders of the Dogme 95 filmmaking movement are apparent.
It is also worth nothing that the whole film is almost entirely carried by the performances of Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, proving that you don’t need an extensive cast to tell a compelling story. In this case it might be one that is affected quite significantly by the director’s thoughts on the world
By the finale you’ll have perhaps forgotten about the rest of the story, such is the impact of the third chapter, Gynocide. It’s arguably needlessly violent but Von Trier certainly makes his point, what with body parts being assaulted and blood spewing from them in a gratuitous manner. Is it misogynistic? I would say yes, it is. Does that make Antichrist a bad film? On this point I would say no, but it does make it a challenging one, and never an easy viewing.
Von Trier may have intended to make a horror film when he set out, but instead he has produced something that is horrifying in a different sense. For all of its stylistic positives and strong performances, it is still a story that has frequent moments that slow things down almost too much, and one where women are clearly painted as a problem. Thematically the links to grief and despair are strong ones, but had Von Trier chosen to portray events in a much more balanced manner then it would have resulted in an equally challenging but less offensive end product.