Note (to self as much as to anyone else): This should’ve gone up a while ago, but it seems it’s been stuck in draft limbo. If anyone feels they’ve already read this one, let me know, because that would be a sign that my mind – or at least my memory – is pretty much going.
I’d been avoiding Lars von Trier’s Antichrist for a while, mainly because I dislike provocation for provocation’s sake, and that’s what Lars von Trier’s public persona largely seems to be about. Having finally seen the film, I have to admit that it didn’t strike me as adolescently provocative as the man himself – and credit where credit’s due, von Trier makes highly unique films* that are fascinating examples of the craft. Antichrist is a striking film, although for each effective scene there’s another one that overuses a certain technique, causing a bit of von Trier fatigue. Nevertheless, it is only fair to say that the director is eminently skilled.
Having said that, I do think Antichrist goes off the rails and after a strong beginning becomes too random. Stylistically it remains fascinating, but it doesn’t so much bring up motifs and raise themes as throw them against the wall like so much psychosexual spaghetti. Grief! Despair! Pain! Clash of genders! Misogyny! Men are logical, and logic is evil! Women are emotional, and emotion is evil! Nature is evil! Woman is nature! Men can’t cope with women and so burn them! Antichrist flirts with all of these but doesn’t end up doing all that much with any of them. None of it seems to add up to anything much, feeling like window dressing for what is in effect an arthouse slasher movie. For all of the scenes of extreme violence, cruelty and self-harm, I rarely felt particularly involved – nor even all that shocked. When you feel non-plussed rather than anything else at fairly explicit scenes of genital mutilation, you have to wonder what exactly Lars was trying to do.
I imagine that courses on film, gender, violence and Lars von Trier will have a field day with Antichrist, and in fact I might enjoy a discussion about it more than I enjoyed the film itself. In the end, though, I have to wonder whether von Trier, always a consummate trickster, didn’t primarily enjoy the idea of doing a genre film and chose the various thematic overtones more as a game, a puzzle without a solution for the audience to try and solve in vain. It would be interesting to check out the Criterion edition of the film, which seems to be choc-a-bloc with excatly these kinds of discussions by scholars – but while I usually have to be physically kept from ordering yet another Criterion disk, I don’t think I have an urgent need to see Antichrist again, commentary track or not.
I am, however, slightly more curious about Nymphomaniac than I was before, so as an expensive, extended advert for Lars von Trier’s work the film seems to have done its trick. I’m sure his body doubles will appreciate this.
*When I say “unique”, though, I have to relativise that statement – especially at the beginning I did feel I was watching a mashup of David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman’s work, although with more graphic sex than you’d find in either of those.