So I watched Antichrist for the second time. It strikes me now that it’s rather like a Poe story. At first glance, it seems almost impossible that there isn’t something supernatural going on here. But eventually, I think it is difficult to conclude that what we’re watching is anything other than a psychological breakdown.
Throughout the film, there are subtle camera tricks such as distortions at the edge of frames which I think are meant to disorient the viewer and make them question whether or not what they’re seeing is a dream. Then there are the many slow-motion and highly surreal (but very beautiful) shots and sequences which seem almost undeniably outside of the “reality” of the film’s events. That said, there’s a lot of bleeding between the reality and the persuasive fantasy which slowly but surely rises to confront us.
Renn Brown writes in his blog, 200 Words that it’s possible to interpret this as a becoming undergone by Willem Dafoe’s character. That is, this character becomes an antichrist. This is an interesting interpretation but may read too much into the title. I think the title refers to a Biblical sense that woman is the original antichrist, she who was responsible for original sin and by her very nature (as a mystery to the patriarchy), a creature of evil and chaos. Psychologically, it makes a shitty sort of sense for man to fear woman if it is man that is interpreting the universe. As Charlotte Gainsborough’s character states, woman is not in control of her body… nature is. If man is trying to put order on the universe, but cannot fundamentally understand nature, and subsequently woman, as anything other than a potential or actual threat, fear and hatred and especially violence are logical steps along the path to “gynocide”. This plays out very interestingly in the film as the therapist husband constantly imposes his interpretation of reality on his troubled wife.
This isn’t to say that Lars Von Trier, as he’s being accused, is making a case for misogyny on the grounds that woman really is evil. I think he’s trying to distill gender/sex conflict into its elemental nature within a context that is both bizarrely accessible (a “cabin-in-the-woods” horror film) as well as relatable for many people (the foreground is a woman dealing with extreme grief at the loss of a child while her therapist husband tries to help her… this could have been a Lifetime drama or some fucking Oscar-bait starring Sandra Bullock).
I’ve said it before, but this isn’t a misogynistic movie. It’s about misogyny in an essential, primal sense. A misogyny before there was such a word. It’s an earnest attempt to figure out what impressions of women lead to conflict and violence between the sexes. It will be unfairly judged as pretentious, but I think this film more than earns its sense of self-importance.
There’s tons that might be said about this movie. I think it would be possible to write books about it. Especially if one were to try and break it down in order to pinpoint its departures from “reality” into “fantasy” or some such. Those kinds of discussions usually start with someone saying “maybe it’s all explainable psychologically?” and then others having shrewd questions about this or that shot/scene/image which might defy such a claim. As this isn’t an essay I’m not going to sit here and prefigure the objections to my interpretation, though I am certainly interested in them.
Anothert time maybe.