Friday, October 30, 2009

"Chaos Reigns": Antichrist (2009)

I'm not usually afraid to watch a movie, even if it's deemed "scary." I shrug off most horror films, since few of them are really all that scary. And as a general rule, I abstain from watching any entry into the appalling "torture porn" genre, such as the Saw films or the Hostel films or any of their even-cheaper knockoffs. The idea of finding entertainment in watching the mutilation and dismemberment of a human being is sickening, and in most cases I refrain from participating.
But last night, I was afraid. I chose a movie that is well-known for its misogyny and its human destructiveness. And I watched it, at some points through my fingers. My stomach churned, my muscles ached; I kept asking myself, why did I choose to sit through this? How did I manage to convince myself to watch it?
I watched Antichrist, the new film by Lars von Trier.

The deer with the dead fetus hanging out of it. The mutilated fox that exclaims "Chaos reigns." The hawk eating the dead bird. The tick-covered hand. The sexually graphic scene under the tree laden with dead bodies. The graphic mutilation of He (an excellent Willem Dafoe) at the hands of She (a terrifically terrifying Charlotte Gainsbourg) in ways in which it pains me just to think about. Antichrist was by no means an easy movie. In fact, it may be the most gruelling, exhausting movie I've ever sat through. Von Trier has made a movie that subjects you to the same kind of emotional pain that the characters experience, twisting the psychology of this couple who have fled to a remote cabin to come to terms with the loss of their child into a demented fever dream of extreme behavior and, yes, physical torture. This movie is only for those who can stomach it, and I can somewhat proudly say that I (barely) survived.
The problem with my description is that it sounds like I hated Antichrist. But I didn't. It was artfully rendered, and masterfully directed. The film doesn't work in spite of the gratuitous misogyny, it works because of it. Without those disturbingly graphic images, the film would fall flat as a rote melodrama. The images are important as they provide the most raw interpretation of the feelings of loss, guilt, and the concept of evil. Which is the main question of Antichrist: does evil actually exist, or is it just an idea attached to extreme behaviors and emotions? Is it possible that we are all capable of evil, and that those who are deemed "good" just have more emotional control?

And then there's the problem with that description: it makes it sound like I liked the film. At this point I don't know what to make of it. It was beautiful, and yet it was ugly. I want to love it and I want to hate it. Which is probably exactly what Von Trier wanted when he made it. Its still haunting me to the moment; the images of She walking through the forest, in a fluid slow-motion that makes it look as if she were floating, remain in my mind as I look out of my window at the overcast sky.
I'm impressed by von Trier's dedication to the extreme darkness of the film, and for turning his depression into art rather than self-destruction. Antichrist may just be one of the most incredible films I have ever seen. Its left me in a state of malaise, which of course meant it did its job. I don't think I'll ever get over this one.

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