If you wish to go to the current Fangoria site, you may click the top logo, "Home" or "News" links. Or click here.
Chaos reigns! If your head hasn’t been in the sand, then you
probably have read about director Lars von Trier’s latest controversy at the
Cannes Film Festival. His new film, MELANCHOLIA, premiered there and—surprise!
surprise!—polarized audiences, much as his previous picture, ANTICHRIST, did
back in 2009. Here’s Michael Gingold’s review.
You will notice at the end of this review (or might have
already, if you checked ahead) that I haven’t assigned a rating to ANTICHRIST,
the latest cinematic provocation by Danish director Lars von Trier. Some films
elicit a response that defies easy encapsulation in one to four skulls (or
stars, or whatever), and ANTICHRIST is just such an experience.
For me, anyway; a number of critics who previously caught
the movie at Cannes and other showcases have had no problems expressing their
opinions. Some booed and others raved, while one British critic caused a minor
on-line scandal by affirming that he would never see the film yet penning a
lengthy pan anyway, just based on what he’d read about it. And on the surface,
ANTICHRIST does sound like the kind of film that gratuitously goes too far in
its sex and violence, combining the two in scenes of genital mutilation of both
sexes. But is there a justifying artistry underneath it all?
I’m still trying to answer that question for myself, weeks
after having seen it. What I do know is that I couldn’t take my eyes off a lot
of the movie, even as there were moments that made even me, a longtime genre
viewer, look away, wondering if the explicit sights were truly necessary.
What can’t be denied is the intensity and commitment that
stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg bring to their characters, known
only as He and She. In the opening sequence, this married couple is seen making
love, an act that is both elevated into Art (black-and-white cinematography,
Handel on the soundtrack) and reduced to its basest elements (hardcore
penetration shots). Distracted by their passion, they fail to notice their
toddler son as he climbs up to and out an open window, falling to his death.
Some time later, as She has still not recovered from her grief, He (a
therapist) takes her to a cabin pointedly called Eden in the midst of a dense
forest to help her get past the tragedy. Instead, the woods and its animal
inhabitants turn threatening and She descends into guilt-fueled madness,
punishing her husband and herself in graphic, torturous ways.
There’s been a minor trend in independent and foreign horror
circles lately toward “pushing the envelope” by staging the nastiest, most
sadistic and clinical violence possible, often unencumbered by any attempt (or,
apparently, any perceived need) to give it a dramatic context, purpose or point.
In ANTICHRIST, von Trier is clearly aiming for more than this kind of lazy
shock value, tying in the personal atrocities to themes of despair and penance,
with a heavy undercurrent of theological allegory. All this doesn’t make the
grotesqueries any easier to watch, but it does work to subliminally justify
their presence, as the most extreme expressions of the worldview von Trier
seeks to convey.
Or does it? As much as I admired the filmmaking—with its
precise framing and lush digital cinematography by 28 DAYS LATER’s Anthony Dod
Mantle—I caught myself thinking more than once: If von Trier has such command
of the cinematic form to express his ideas, with a couple of fine actors at his
disposal, does he really need to plumb such depths of unpleasantness to make
his point? Or is he just throwing that stuff in there for the same reason the
gorenographers do—to gratuitously rile people up and grab some attention?
And, given the forum in which this review is being written,
what about simply judging ANTICHRIST as a horror movie? It certainly horrifies,
that’s for sure, but it aspires to much more, in a manner that those seeking a
simple shock show may find pretentious. Others might discern a streak of
misogyny running through the film, and I can’t say I’m not one of them (I’ve
always felt von Trier’s acclaimed BREAKING THE WAVES was more about simple
masochism than spiritual martyrdom). ANTICHRIST alternately intrigued and
repulsed me, and the two reactions had battled each other to a draw by the time
the movie was over. So I can’t say I loved it, can’t say I hated it, and I sure
can’t sum up my response to it with a few skull graphics. And I can’t offer a
blanket recommendation or condemnation. All I know is that I’m very much
looking forward to the comments that will follow below once more Fangorians
have gotten to see the movie.
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY AND BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT NEWS, CONTESTS, EVENTS AND MORE!
All contents © 2011 Fangoria Entertainment