24 September, 2009
The nature of evil, the evil of nature
Official Selection List, European Film Awards 2009
It’s rare, for me, to find a film that very nearly defies my capacity to describe it – and that’s not meant to be a self-aggrandising statement on my skills as a film reviewer, even if it sounds like it.
I have loved film since I was very small, and feel very lucky to have the opportunity to write about it for a living, which is why I hope you will believe me when I say that, should you take the risk (and believe me, that’s what it is) of seeing Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) for yourself, as opposed to merely reading hyperbolic reviews such as this one, you will leave safe in the knowledge that you will NEVER see its like again.
The bravery displayed by the director, but more, a thousand times more, by his stars Willem Dafoe (’He’) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (’She’) is breathtaking – Björk, the star of von Trier’s Palme D’Or winner Dancer in the Dark (2000), is apocryphally said to have eaten a dress in frustration and rage, such were the hoops that her director made her jump through.
One can only guess how Dafoe and Gainsbourg (and, for that matter Von Trier) made it off this shoot alive…
Attempts at definition, as previously stated, are near-redundant, but God hates a coward, right? At a base level, the story (which is divided into five chapters, Grief, Pain (Chaos Reigns), Despair (Gynocide), The Three Beggars and Epilogue) concerns grief – for this reviewer, who lost someone very dear to him recently, the film’s opening chapter provides a near-flawless examination of the pain for which there is no salve but time, and it is this that provides the foundation for the rest of the film, the characters’ motivations, and the horror that overtake two people who are very much in love, in spite of themselves and their circumstances.
He and She are busy making (very graphic) love at the film’s outset, while their little boy, Nic, is sleeping, or so they think.
Tragedy unfolds in beautifully filmed, monochrome slow motion – Nic wakes up, climbs on top of a table, opens the window, and falls to his death in the snow from six storeys up.
Dafoe’s character, a respected psychotherapist, does all he can to bring his wife through her grief, but realises that she is struggling with fears and anxieties beyond the simple agony of loss.
A trip into the woods (which ‘She’ states as being her greatest fear) is taken…and hell follows.
Von Trier plays his customary games with narrative, and the undermining of narrative, and it is for this reason that some will find this very hard going.
But that would be the point. It’s also all about trust and the evil that’s inherent in nature (and, therefore, mankind), but some experiences, you have to undergo yourself.
And trust me, this is one of them…
Awards: Click here for details.