It would be unfair to discuss Lars von Trier’s latest film, Antichrist, without first considering the audiences’ reaction. Even now, as it begins hitting wide-release in North America, reviewers are buzzing about the film starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. And, regardless of whether the buzz celebrates or condemns the project, the movie definitely has people talking.
At the opening premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, at a specific paramount-but-spoiler scene in the film, some attendees of the press-filled theatre yelled at the screen, while others simply got up to leave. It is rumoured that at the Toronto International Film Fest, one member at the premiere vomited during viewing. Quite obviously, the film inspires a visceral reaction.
The film, albeit beautifully filmed, contains many disturbing images. So much so, that in the weeks following my viewing of it, I could not think, let alone speak about the movie to anyone. From graphic sexuality to morbid relationships, the film has an oblong fixation with the deformed. Gainsbourg, the leading lady herself, was apparently so disturbed by the film that she had to phone her mother everyday after shooting just to return to normal.
One of the most debated issues regarding the film is the element of misogyny. Indeed, the Cannes Film Fest coined for Trier an “Anti-Spirit Award” for the film’s misogynistic values. After having viewed the film, however, I felt it was more of a reverse psychology form. I assumed that in his gross overture of women-hating, both physical and emotional, that Trier was making a comment about the contemporary treatment of women by women, in such a way that he was celebrating women in a bizarre and kinky fashion. A friend with whom I viewed the film disagreed and said it obviously touted the misogynistic ideals of which it was being accused.
So the film is interesting to be sure, full of debate and new images which could scar the North American public upon viewing. But at the end of the day, Trier just goes too over-the-top. The supposed psychology that some say the film embodies is hogwash. The film is a colour-by-numbers disturber film. There is nothing groundbreaking or mind-opening about the project. If it’s psychology, it’s the shallow dime-store brand.
Trier is just being purposely exploitative here, caring more about getting a reaction than developing a meaningful plot. Numerous images throughout the film are designed more to lurch the stomach than the brain.
Many critics have said that Antichrist is Trier’s attempt to regain his previously lost audience and it’s obvious. His desperation to reappear unique and revolutionary in the cinematic world reeks throughout the film. He is reminiscent of a 12-year old boy discovering his penis and using it to gain the attention of his new baby sister.
At times, when people see a film that seems somehow over their heads, they assume that the film must really be good. Antichrist will be this type of film — the type that people parade as wonderful, when, in actuality, it’s just a vague romantic comedy with blood. It’s not “above” its audience, it’s just poorly done and posing as something more authentic.
The film may be worth seeing just to keep up with conversations with indie hipsters, but don’t take too much away from the obvious-but-empty messages and exploitative images. They are formulaic at best.