A mind is an awful thing to waste, though some might disagree when you’re discussing Lars Von Trier whose own is comparable to a nightmarish carnival ride. Thus when one considers that Antichrist was written during one of his supposed darkest periods, it certainly makes one wonder how much further he can push his already controversial catalogue of works.
Evidently, quite a lot. This, his newest addition tells the tale of two unnamed characters but are scripted as He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who after suffering a significant loss return to their summer cabin in Eden so that He can attempt to help his wife confront and deal with her grief rather than medicate herself and ignore what happened.
“You must trust people to be smarter than you”, she says before she agrees. He should have listened.
Dealing most significantly with the nature of men and women, the fact that both players remain unnamed simply adds to the examined nature of the action where men are arrogant, detached and driven largely by sex; women are emotional, gracious and yet completely atypical. His method of mourning is the opposite of hers and yet she agrees to follow his reasoning, forcing both to confront their most primal instincts in the process.
With a prologue that makes perhaps the worst case scenario for a family into a beautiful cinematic piece, it would be naive to think that the film will relent in any way before its end. Simply shot and orchestrated, it manages to both heighten emotion and yet separate us from what happens enough so that we may remain impartial later and empathise with Her more easily. At times, the metaphors can seem too weighed down by their own significance or worse, begin to betray the beautiful simplicity of the plot but Dafoe and Gainsbourg more significantly, act with such simplicity and apparent authenticity, the entire piece never descends into the potential laughable effluent it could become. The violence is well handled and although extreme in parts, it never betrays the overall idea present, a point of irony given that both characters allude to the lack of any significance in Antichrist as a whole.
Gainsbourg really is the star of the piece, taking the usual barrage of punishment that Trier forces upon his female leads with a grace and inner turmoil that outshines even the convincing Nicole Kidman in Dogville, it never becomes the misogynistic mess that his pieces often become. The pain She suffers, even requests is minimal compared to the brutality that she can inflict upon men. He believes her to fear herself when it is perhaps her femininity that she understands most, it is man’s involvement that she fears.
“This is physical, it’s dangerous”. Yes it is, and utterly compelling.