Let’s be upfront about something: I’m not entirely sure that I ‘get’ Antichrist. And I’m not entirely sure that Antichrist can
be ‘got;’ every time you think you have a handle on what Lars von Trier
is saying with this beautiful and terrible film he comes along and
seems to say the exact opposite, often in the very next scene. It’s
disorienting and it’s difficult and it feels kind of brilliant.

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are a married couple whose son
pulls a ‘Tears in Heaven’ while they’re engaged in a vigorous,
Obsession commercial-style fuck session. Gainsbourg is totally broken
by the event and DaFoe, a supremely rational psychologist, recommends
some time away at their cabin the woods, Eden. But once they get into
nature everything begins falling apart and madness begins to creep in
at the edges. Or as the fox in the movie famously says, ‘Chaos reigns.’

There are a lot of ways to interpret the film, ranging from a big prank
pulled on the audience by von Trier to a brutally misogynistic scream
of hatred at women to a bristling defense of them. The movie has a
‘misogyny consultant’ listed in the end credits, so make of that what
you will. Perhaps that actually sums up Antichrist perfectly
– make of it what you will. von Trier has made a film that forces your
psyche to react to it, that demands you bring your own experiences and
beliefs to the table before you can begin making any sense of it.
That’s thrilling. That’s art.

Some things about Antichrist are undeniable: it’s
gorgeous. The director, a founder of the irritating Dogme 95 movement,
plays cinematic styles like a musical instrument, and the film
effortlessly jumps from hyper slo-mo black and white arty scenes to
horror movie handheld to lushly realized nature scenes to truly weird
moments of nightmarish hallucinatory quality. There’s an effect that
cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle uses that creates subtle distortions
in the scenes, little bubbles of unreality that hover at the corners,
creating a deep visual unease without calling attention to itself. As a
work of pure visual cinema, Antichrist is a complete
masterpiece, one of the most striking films you will ever see, and one
that you should see projected if at all possible.

As a narrative Antichrist is shakier. The film’s first 45
minutes, where the couple attempt to deal with the aftermath of their
son’s death and then head to Eden, can try the patience of some
audience members, and then the narrative in the third act all but
dissolves and people concerned about details such as “Did that really
just happen?” might be angered. But on the film’s own terms it all
works, with the first half representing the masculine, Dafoe
rationalist side and then having the feminine chaos and irrationality.
Also, it just keeps getting fucking cooler, and who cares if the fox really says ‘Chaos reigns’ to Dafoe? After all, the fox is right, so his reality is beside the point.

By the time the film gets to its much publicized horrors in the third act you’ve either been lulled into submission, a la Audition,
or, if you’re an active, intelligent viewer, von Trier has worked you
up to a point of boiling over with excitement and terror. The violence
that explodes is cathartic and repulsive; it’s the best use of extreme
violence I’ve seen in a film in years. There’s been a lot of talk about
the film’s violence, and while some have been upset about having the
exact acts spoiled, I think knowing what happens when you walk in only
helps. von Trier hasn’t made a movie about shocks, he’s made a movie
about horrifying inevitability. Information comes to light late in the
film that indicates the death of the boy was just the end of a long
chain of events, and the existential terror that you have been trapped
in a cycle of madness long before you realized it – that life if a
cycle of madness – is what von Trier is exploring.

He’s actually exploring a lot of things. He’s tackling misogyny on an
incredibly basic level, on the fear of creation itself. He posits a
worldview where the force of creation is supremely evil because all
that is born must die – the creator is the ultimate destroyer. Nature
is Satan’s church, the film says, and that’s the base of misogyny -of
the gynocide, or mankind’s long war against women, the exploration of
which may drive Gainsbourg’s character insane. By the way, there are a
lot of levels to Antichrist but my favorite may be the most simple: it’s a cabin in the woods picture, and sort of a remake of Evil Dead. There’s the cabin, the book of evil (in this case Gainsbourg’s thesis book, Gynocide) and Dafoe as the embattled Ash figure. It’s also sort of a twist on The Shining (with
Jack’s book and Gainsbourg’s thesis sharing insane similarities), but
where Wendy is the crazy one. Part of what drives Gainsbourg crazy in
the film is the understanding that women as humans are technically just
as capable of being evil as men, and in the audience we have to
understand that if this film had been reversed – if Dafoe had been the
driven family man driven insane and acting out in the woods – we
wouldn’t even blink. But when it’s a woman, misogyny creeps into the
conversation. And isn’t it misogynistic to even begin to question a
woman’s ability to be a man’s equal when it comes to evil?

Deep inside the existential terror and examination of misogyny are
Dafoe and Gainsbourg. The film is essentially a two-hander, and for
most of the running time it’s these two actors bouncing off of one
another. Each is amazing, but Gainsbourg is sublime in her performance
and her bravery. Physically von Trier asks a lot of her – while an
explicit shot of a cock entering a vagina was likely doubled, there is
a shot of Gainsbourg laying fully naked furiously fingerfucking herself
and there’s no faking that – but mentally he asks even more. The
character begins the movie broken and then gets profoundly more
mentally dissolved as it goes along, finally completely hysterical,
possibly in the original Freudian sense of the word. Gainsbourg manages
to maintain a humanity through it all (well, right up to the end, when
her actions really go over the line), and her chemistry with Dafoe is
vivid and crackling. Dafoe, meanwhile, is a perfect choice to play the
‘hero’ – vaguely creepy, endlessly condescending and, right up until
the last moments, unable to see the truths of the world because of his
devotion to what he perceives as reality (seriously, there is a lot going on in Antichrist). Both actors are terrific, but Gainsbourg is beyond phenomenal.

Antichrist is a deeply flawed movie, and as the film
roars to its bloody climax (literally) it seems like von Trier may have
lost control of it for a bit. But that’s okay, because again, as the
fox says, ‘Chaos reigns.’ All order breaks down, and that is the order.
Antichrist is a movie to be revisited again and again, a
film that should spark hours upon hours of conversation, a film that I
guarantee will stick with you, in a deep and possibly unpleasant way,
long after the end credits have rolled. It’s a masterful work of art,
an art film being brutally sodomized by an exploitation film, a
meditation on the nature of evil and life with a screeching witch at
its center. It’s a work of beauty and horror, a work of farce and
terror. It’s unique, it’s fucked up, it’s one of the best of the decade.

9.5 out of 10