Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Antichrist by Lars von Trier

A film not for the faint of heart, or for the weak of mind for that matter (I plead guilty to the charge of Elitism). The film is not just extremely violent, it also raises serious questions about the war of the sexes, about rationality versus nature debate, about religion, and about the nurture instinct versus the desire instinct.

Starting almost operatically, with a very high degree of cinematic control, the film plunges slowly, chapter by chapter, into the dark recesses and chaos of a woman's uncontrollable nature.

There are distinct (if inadvertent) echoes of Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, 2002), especially as it explores the issue of whether female nature inspires violence (in both films, the woman is subjected to horrific violence), the nature of desire and domination (in both films, the woman is a very wilful character till the very end who dominates the man/men emotionally till she is avenged physically by mankind), the drives of sadism (in both films, hurtful violence is part of sexuality), grief and madness, and the treatment of woman as nature (in both films, there is a spectacular shot of the woman being an inseparable part of the green of nature).

I think the film raises serious issues, but I also appreciate Mike D'Angelo when he writes in his open letter to von Trier:
I think you’re in deadly earnest about the nature of grief and its relation to madness. And yet you take it so far over the top, in so many different ways, that it’s almost impossible not to laugh.
To be fair to von Trier and to the film, I didn't laugh even once. I found the film quite somber and meaningful, but I do agree that some of the scenes might be too much for a normal viewer. von Trier strays as far from his Dogme-95 manifesto as possible: using slow motion, tricks of lighting, rotoscoping, special effects, background music, ... What hasn't changed is the extreme demands he places on his actors. The performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg stands out in my limited film experience as one of the finest and most harrowing performances by an actress. Her final scene with her husband is nothing short of extraordinary.

Nature is not just the trees and the birds, it is also our own impulses and passions. The force of passions scare Her, and (in the pyramid of her fears) her deepest fear is therefore depicted as that of Her own Self. I have to say that I was bemused by the overt symbolism of bondage (a round stone, no less, tied (sic) to the man's leg by the woman). For those who want to explore the nature of self-injury as a form of revenge against one's own sexuality, and who (WARNING) do not flinch easily, I recommend Cutting Moments (Douglas Buck, 1997), a rather disturbing short film.

I find the following comment on IMDB to be very insightful about this film (Warning: SPOILERS):
In the film, “She” — the name of Gainsborg’s character — had been writing a thesis on violence against women through history. She realized that “nature … causes people to do evil things to women,” but concluded that female nature is also part of this cycle; the nature of women inspires violence. As She explains it, women lack complete control over their own bodies, which are animated by satanic spirit.

For her, images such as those she collects of early modern witches copulating with demons, capture an essential truth. Her therapist husband, whose relentless rationalism fails to cure her, resists the inevitability of this truth until the very end.

Gainsbourg’s character, through her sexual frenzies and shifts of mood, seems connected to the natural world of Eden around her. When she observes that “Nature is Satan’s church,” it is not difficult to infer that while Christ was half man, half divine, Antichrist is half woman, half Satanic. Indeed, She does not seem completely in control of herself. Fearing his abandonment, She suddenly brutalizes her husband's genitalia by smashing it with a huge log of wood. Then she just as suddenly switches back to nurturing mode, by her sudden frenzied manual stimulation of his traumatized penis to orgasm. In her brutalizing mode, for example, She bolts a grindstone to his leg, and then throws the wrench under the house to prevent an escape. Later, in her nurturing mode, She wants to remove the grindstone and help her husband back to the house; She looks for the wrench in the toolbox as if she were not aware that she herself had hidden it elsewhere.

Such splitting of her personality recurs. In one (notorious) sequence, She remembers watching her child fall from the window while she did nothing to stop him because she was caught up in sexual ecstasy. When, horrified at her own conduct, She performs a genital self-mutilation, she is trying to protect herself as well as others from this uncontrollable destructive force within herself.

The fact that She herself is horrified by female sexual power seems to undermine any notion that what the film depicts is a result of patriarchal oppression. Rather, it is hard to escape the conclusion that She has rediscovered the truth that He, in his rationalistic naivete, has dismissed out of hand. And their own and the world's
expulsion from Eden — the corruption of the world — was not simply the Fall of Man but the Rise of Woman.


MJ said...

I think your interpretation is far off the mark.

This film is an allegory about the rational mind fighting against the irrational mind and enlightenment. The rational mind tries to understand and analyze the irrational mind and live in harmony with it but ultimately all its theories are bogus. The irrational mind while sometimes agreeing with the rational mind shows its contempt for its feebleness and all its theories. Sex is something which the irrational mind revels in and obsesses about while the rational mind at best maintains a detached acceptance of it. Finally the irrational mind goes berserk and cripples the rational mind, and goes on a self destructive spree.

Finally the rational mind kills the irrational mind and achieves enlightenment. However it still must live in the sea of the irrational mind.

MJ said...

I must also add that this is a dark and morbid movie, and many of the films highly praised by you fall in this category. On an average humans do not act in this manner, so in some sense you are projecting more darkness onto humans than is due to them.