Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as a man and woman who retreat to their cabin in the woods to grieve the death of their young son. Dafoe’s character is a therapist and tries to offer techniques to help Gainsbourg’s character cope with the tragedy. But Gainsbourg spirals beyond grief and into insanity… and violence.
Writer/director Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, The House that Jack Built) always aims to rock the boat and stir controversy with his films. Here he does so with shocking imagery of sex and violence and an even more shocking idea — that perhaps human suffering isn’t noble or purposeful. That perhaps, as a fox tells Dafoe in the woods, “Chaos reigns.” Von Trier goes further into uncomfortable territory by portraying Gainsbourg as a woman who believes women are intrinsically evil. Dafoe balks at the suggestion and tries to swing her around to his reasoning, but after a while, he’s uncertain. He discovers from an autopsy report that the child’s feet were malformed, and then comes to realize in photographs that Gainsbourg always put the boy’s shoes on the wrong feet. On purpose.
And upon that realization, Antichrist goes off the deep end and gets really freaky and unsettling — a full-blown horror movie. I actually thought Antichrist would take the side that men are the evil ones in nature, with Gainsbourg having to escape Dafoe’s torment. But Von Trier flips the table over. After a few somewhat clunky scenes of discussion on sex, nature and violence, he seems happy to present a third act that essentially states little more than, “Bitches be crazy.” Gainsbourg becomes an absolute monster and Dafoe is her tortured prey. I grimaced a few times and was pleasantly appalled by the movie.
Von Trier is an odd duck that I can’t quite wrap my head around yet. On one level, he is capable of beautiful imagery and sequences that haunt my memory. And I love his stylistic approach to filmmaking, how he very simply executes most scenes with unsophisticated hand-held camerawork and available lighting, but juxtaposes that work with select moments of very purposeful, exquisitely lit, exquisitely framed shots. He also coaxes brave performances from his cast much of the time. It’s only on the thematic level that I’m unsure of his work.
But I don’t need everything tied up with a bow, and I certainly don’t need filmmakers to abide by politically correct guidelines. So if Lars von Trier wants to make a beautiful, creepy, weird-ass movie about bitches being crazy, I’m damn well going to check it out. And you should, too. It might make you angry. It might offend you. You might even hate it.
But you won’t forget it.