Lars Von Trier’s newest film has now proudly usurped the top spot previously held by In the Realm of the Senses as Worst Date Movie Ever. What these two movies share are unsanitary, health department-unapproved scenes of genital mutilation, but Antichrist wins because the title is easier to say, and it lacks the, er, romance of the other. Much has been made of the scene in Antichrist, but if you are one of the few people who haven’t heard about it, I won’t go into details. For one, it’s icky. For two, knowing what was coming dulled the shock. Which is not to say that I wasn’t shocked by Antichrist; hell, it is impossible not to be. No one appeared to be on neutral ground in regards to it: reviews all gave it five stars or one. I can’t quite understand giving such a beautifully shot, undeniably eerie film one single star. But it takes all kinds, etc, and some of them will obviously be people who are wrong. (I am always right, in case you were wondering.)
Antichrist’s prologue is a soft, exquisitely shot portrayal of a young child climbing to his death while his parents make sweet, X-rated love in the other room. What follows is his parents, never named but played unflinchingly by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, trying to deal with their grief and guilt over what happened. He is a psychologist, and she is depressed: the solution, he feels, is to take her to their summer cabin to confront her emotions, and to treat her himself. It turns out that letting two emotionally fraught people stay in an isolated cabin, surrounded by only the cruelty of nature, was not his greatest idea. Well, he was not so long ago a goblinesque supervillain, and thus is clearly not a man of fantastic foresight.
I had planned to do other things as we watched this film, now available on DVD. I didn’t anticipate enjoying it, and besides, I had important pointless things to look up on the internet. About two minutes in, I put the laptop on the floor, and didn’t pick it up again until the movie was over. What seems like a small plot expands into something much more devastating and serious, as he and she explore their reactions and feelings and have a whole stack of gritty sex. Neither are beautified for the film, but they don’t need to be: Dafoe’s face could carry a film on its own, and Gainsbourg is appealing even when naked, raw, covered in twigs and masturbating relentlessly in the roots of a tree. A movie with such unbridled sexuality and nudity is a brave choice and one I am always in favour of, because I am sick of the only nudity in movies being when a socially-beautiful woman takes off her top for some waist-up-only sex scenes. Male nudity is a rarity and if you ever wanted to see Dafoe in the buff, you now have your chance; much of it may be stand-ins, but some scenes are not.
He and she fight and make up, make breakthroughs and regress. Each are flawed: he treats her as a patient and not a person, an experiment but not his wife, until she advances on him; she is hiding secrets about her last summer in the cabin, alone with their son. She uses sex as a distraction, but he acquiesces. They are the only two people who speak in this movie, and apart from their doomed son, other characters are only in it for less than a minute. Nature—both kinds—shows its beauty and its unsentimental reality through haunting dream sequences and scenes struck through with animal terror.
There will be parts of this movie where you cover your eyes and peep through your fingers. There are visceral reactions to be had from this film, but you won’t be able to look away. As striking as it is horrifying, it is an incredible movie and while I don’t give stars, I am completely astounded to find anyone giving it only one. (Yes, Leigh Paatsch, I’m looking at you.)
Seriously, however, don’t take my initial statements lightly. It is not a date movie. There is one scene in particular that will destroy any kind of smooching mood for at least twenty-four hours. Hire Star Trek, and don some Spock ears for some evening romance instead.