After Seeing Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist

[Beware of Spoilers]

What makes a movie (or any piece of art for that matter?) good? What is it that makes it good? Is it a quality the movie has that is unchangeable? Is the quality in the movie itself or in the eye of the  beholder?

The answer might be obvious but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it. Of course it isn’t the quality itself that can be found as a big chip in the eye of the beholder but the beholder recognizes the quality and without that recognition – what do we have? The person who likes the movie might argue that the quality is still there but that the viewer just doesn’t see it.

Be that as it may – it is a delicate interaction between the artist, the art and the viewer.
And this relationship never seizes to amaze me.

I went to see Lars Von Triers Antichrist tonight.

I can’t say I’m a fan of Lars Von Trier. I loved Dancer in the Dark but Idioterne is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. You could say that the little relationship I have to his movies is a bit of a love/hate relationship.

Those interested in the movie have already read the headlines. It’s shocking. It’s a horror movie. It’s about a couple dealing with the aftermath of loosing a child. And it’s strange and pornographic.

Apparently the shock most people seem to be in during this movie  does so that they miss the details (he does show a penis/pussy as soon as possible, so if you’re “easily” shocked it happens with in a minute or so). Those who can see past the shock though can see many things.

This is a movie about the relationship between men and women. It’s a movie about good and evil. It’s a movie about depression and sorrow. It’s a movie about sex and guilt and … I could go on and on.

The delicate details are stunning. The interaction between the two people is so genuine and so delicate that it astounded me. The sex and nudity plays a big role in creating this. It makes the scenes seem special or one of a kind but at the same time real. This is just husband and wife not afraid to be confronted with each others bodies, not constantly trying to hide and it creates realness which sets an atmosphere in the film which evolves into surreal madness as we get deeper into Eden. The nudeness creates a real atmosphere which empowers the psychological drama.

But this is not meant as a realistic movie. This is a movie filled with imagery. Partially we are bombarded with religious imagery which we easily interpret. We have here a story of Adam and Eve trying to cope with life after the fall from grace. It is a film about fear and the horrors of mother nature, the outside nature (trees and grass and earth and stones) but also the nature within us.

And when the surreal imagery culminates in a pornographic mutilation the intimacy and the realness of the relationship between them transforms into absolute horror as the viewer (if she is brave enough to watch) can only find absolutely abhorring. And that’s the point. Von Trier manages to do something meaningful with “bodyhorror”, something every splatter director wants to do but most fail at. Because the film wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t feel utter disgust. I, at least, would have left the theater shrugging my shoulders thinking that at least the scenario was fantastic.

But those brutal scenes serve a purpose. They drive the stake through the viewer’s heart. Swept up in the disgust of the battle between the two sexes, trying to find a meaning, hoping that it wasn’t just utter misogyny.

Meaning is in the eye of the beholder. I left the movie salon strangely thrilled (although relieved that I no longer had to suffer through the rustle of the paper bag the guy next to me was eating from during most of the movie!).

In the end the man walks away from Eden alone, faced with the three beggars (fox, crow and a deer) and a hoard of dressed, faceless women.  Evil has torn the husband and wife apart, it has infested itself in both of them and in the end it makes a murderer out of him. We learn that she was partially to blame for the child’s fall, that she saw. We learn that her nature, like his, is difficult to handle and unpredictable.

The religious imagery carries us all the way. She  is to blame for the fall. She blames herself. She is of the flesh, very natural and nature in this mirrored world is evil. There is no good in a world after the fall and there is no tangible evil but in all we see, in all we have around us and in all we are. Evil isn’t only in her but in him as well. He is as natural as she is and in the end that’s what takes over and dictates the outcome.

There is no happy ending but the ending reflects a history mentioned in the film. History of witches and what has been called gynocide.

This is a fantastic film. It left me dumbfounded and not because of the “shocking” elements but because of the magnitude of the story. I applaud the actors who dared to go through with this. It can’t have been easy. It is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long time. It does what a film should do. It makes you think. It challenges you. It scares you. At least it did that to me.

This is one of these films I wouldn’t dare to recommend to people though, at least not until I knew something about their movie experience, likes and dislikes. Many people are so afraid to see naked butts (not to mention all the other things Von Trier shows us) that they will never be able to see anything but that.

But while pornography in movies is often just to show off the body of some actor or actress this movie uses it as imagery, and it’s brutal. It’s a part of the art, just like the mutilation, which is more grotesque than anything I’ve seen in a long time (and all that without you having to suffer through 1,5 hours of sawed off limbs or what have you). The sex and the horror is a part of the story, it’s a part of our history, an integrated part of the film and it wouldn’t be the same without it.

If you have to be shocked then so be it – but try to get passed it and look at what shocked you and why. Try to see the beauty in some of the scenes and find your meaning.

Because there is deep meaning in this movie. And that is often what makes a movie great. This movie is visually fantastic and can be interpreted on many levels. It is slow paced, brutal, beautiful and ugly. It tells us something about people and about history, I think. What more do we want in a movie?

But then again meaning is in the eye of the beholder. What did you see?

11 Comments Add yours

  1. bert says:

    He didn’t murder her, he defended himself! And while the animals throughout the movie were all dead or dying, in the end they were alive. Whole. I took it to mean HE defeated the evil which overtook her HER and seemed to “release” whatever spell was cast on the place. [So to speak.] First he became free, then the animals were shown leaving- seeming to be freed- and then suddenly all those faceless woman who seemed to have been freed as well.

    I’ve been searching the web for some opinion on the ending which is how I got here. I’ve seen the ones who called it crap and you call it art. To each their own. But him a murderer!? Don’t see that at all.

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    1. Nikola says:

      think again – whenever 3 beggars arrive – someone must die…
      1st time, it was before their son fell through the window
      2nd time, it was when he killed his wife
      3rd time – before his own death?
      he was eating those berries, when he noticed feathers of some dead animal, which died probably after consuming them?
      I have no idea about all those faceless women, though

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  2. bert says:

    I just found this at the huffington post.

    The author write he asked Von Trier himself;

    “Are you the little boy whose mother lets him die?” I asked Lars Von Trier, pointblank, once more facing him before the Mediterranean sea in Antibes.

    “Yes, that is it,” Von Trier — spiffy in his white undershirt — readily admitted. “My mother didn’t give me a childhood. She was magical to me of course, but she did not take care of me. If I were to say, will I die tonight, she would say “Perhaps.” Her ambition to tell the truth was more important than protecting me. If my children ask the same question, I say no, you will not die. There is a lot of guilt in my female character.”

    He added: “I guess I wish that my mother would feel guilty.”

    So if even the director doesn’t know what the movie means when he makes it, so who are we kidding?

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    1. Eygló Daða says:

      Actually I’d argue that even though you see it as “defending himself” which I can agree with (at least on some level – he has a blame too though) I’d still call him a murderer. It’s why I wrote “makes a murderer out of him”. It’s not his choice but what he has to do.

      As when it comes to finding meaning in movies/books/works of art I don’t think that the meaning lies with the creator but with the viewer. Creators of course put their own spin/meaning into their art but it is up to the viewer to interpret the way he sees fit. It’s what makes art so special! We all see it differently.

      Thank you for the comments. I think it’s nice to see that people are trying to find meaning in this movie! 🙂

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  3. bert says:

    “Creators of course put their own spin/meaning into their art but it is up to the viewer to interpret the way he sees fit. It’s what makes art so special!”

    If that’s true then I don’t get the entire ‘critic industry.’ If the director isn’t responsible to give over a message but just throws a bunch of images on the screen, and let the viewer decide… What’s to critique- outside of an actor looking real or scripted.

    I saw Danny Darko and looked around for forums to try and understand what the director was trying to say. I came across an article of the director saying that someone in make-up, I think it was, said to him, “hey, how about putting a spiral on the engine propeller?” He was like, yea, great idea.

    I couldn’t believe it. Isn’t he trying to get a point across? Comedies, action films, ok. Just throw scenes on the screen.

    When you make a film like Donnie Darko or anti-christ you must be trying to say something so say it in a way it can be understood or what good are they? What’s the point?

    A movie that gets you to think- it’s supposed to mean thinking about the message! How the director applied it. What he felt the ramifications of it were as he presented it on the screen. If the thinking is, “What was that?” and the answer is “Whatever you want it to be,” then I’ve really been wasting my time.

    It just can’t be the whole industry is just a self-propagating, self-aggrandizing, say nothing. Plenty of it is but I thought these Cannes types were actually trying to say something.

    Sorry for the disillusioned ranting.

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    1. Eygló Daða says:

      I didn’t mean to imply that the director doesn’t have his interpretation or doesn’t have a thing to say with the movie. I’m just saying that there is more to interpretation than what’s on the creators mind. It’s why we can enjoy plays by Shakespeare so long after the man and his culture has slipped away. We constantly find meaning in things – even though it might not be what the creator meant it to say we still find meaning and I find that fascinating. (Reader response theory!) So when I watch a movie I can be interested (of course) in what the director meant the movie to say but I always try to dig deeper within myself to find a meaning of my own.

      Did that make any sense? =)

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  4. bert says:

    It makes sense but what’s the point?
    What do you accomplish by finding meaning in a film that no one intended to be there?
    What kind of meaning is that?

    So look out the front window and when a Honda drives by, have it mean whatever you want to.

    That’s probably why so much crap passes for art these days.
    Thanks for hearing me out.

    Like

    1. Eygló Daða says:

      Well you can always use that argument. What’s the point in knowing the directors intentions? What does that do? why is that interesting or important? Interpretations aren’t taken out of the hat. They aren’t random coincidences but creations of the culture you live in, yourself and what’s around you and sometimes a LOT more interesting than what some director might have to say (IMHO) not that his/her intentions aren’t interesting too! 🙂 I like the variety of it all…

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  5. bert says:

    “What’s the point in knowing the directors intentions? What does that do?”

    It lets you know if you “get it.” If I see a film with a message, I want to get the message. If the message is whatever I make up… we’re back to the honda.

    On it’s most basic level, foreshadowing… conversations early in the film which play roles in understand what takes place later on… that’s getting it. On more subtle levels, a director can put so much into the film that you can watch it 2-3 times and still find new things. Then there are films where the whole film is an analogy. And you have to get what you’re getting.

    To call a film like this antichrist, he obviously is trying to mean something more than the story on the screen. SO I waslooking for online discussions to see if I “got it.” Actually, for this film, I’m not christian so I wouldn’t get it at all. I wanted to see if someone else could explain it to me.

    That means someone needs to know what the director was trying to say. Not sticking their own meaning into the film.

    There are enough films out there for variety. Variety means I don’t care what the film is supposed to mean, I’ll tell you what it means…?

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    1. Eygló Daða says:

      Actually I would also separate the meaning of the film from the directors intentions (forgive me if I’m going overboard, read too much literary theory I guess). What irks me is the reviews who are mixing Trier’s mother in with the meaning of the movie. I’m not interested in knowing any biographical information of why Trier made the movie the way he did, although I do admit it might be a source of ‘some’ interest but some reviews are focusing on that ALONE making the director more important than the movie itself. A movie should stand alone, away from its director. Getting it is a cultural thing – you get the connotations or you search for the answers to questions that rise while you’re watching. Like all the Christian connotations that some reviewers have chosen to ignore but other’s focus on. Interpretation should come from the movie’s signs and none of the signs in the movie should be ignored but putting the director TOO much into it is a mistake I think.

      That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what he has to say though 😉

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  6. P.J. Veber says:

    There are simple explanations to what goes on between the two characters in this “film.”

    But first I wonder what Eric Clapton thought of it, since part of the theme is a slice of life taken from his own experience.

    In fact, knowing what was coming, as I watched the couple – portrayed by Dafoe and Gainsbourg – rutting in animalistic delight as they distractedly destroyed the inanimate objects around them — so lost in lust that nothing else in the world mattered — I said to my spouse — as the child climbed to the window: *One more step to Tears in Heaven* and watched as the little one fell — uncomprehending — to his tragic and premature death.

    Then the next thing I thought, seeing the parents walk behind the child’s casket, was how can she do it? How can she walk behind the casket holding her baby and not dissolve into the horrific grief this must cause… and then she couldn’t… and collapsed from the unbearable weight of it…
    In the hospital when the woman awoke, she said — in a very plain and direct way — that she was not ready to leave the hospital…

    But her husband, being a man, with the endless need to “fix” things, felt he knew better than she did… the hospital was no place to grow and get over the loss of her child… he would take her out of there and help her get over it…

    A huge mistake. A very huge and unfortunately male mistake. And in the end the woman got maimed and dead and the man ended up wounded and a murderer because he pulled that arrogant and male mistake of knowing better than a separate person involved what that person needed, and knew she needed and told him she needed. She needed to stay in the hospital, in a quiet place removed from much earthly sensation and heal. He was sure he knew better and he didn’t listen.

    He didn’t listen to the person who knew internally what she needed and they both suffered even more horribly than they already were, but she suffered the worst. She got maimed and dead as a result of his stupid arrogance.

    And I watched the special features on the DVD and I can tell everyone that Lars Von Trier is not only wrong in his assertions but he’s full of BS and F-ed in the head about this piece he created.

    Men ARE more evil than women. At some point in the history of the human race, men used brute force and the 4% more muscle tissue they have at birth to take over control of human populations and they are responsible for ALL the Wars and destruction wreaked on the human race since they wrested control.

    Women, you know, were the first GODS. They were worshipped because they could produce not only other whole human beings from their bodies in the birth process, but could also produce food — in the form of breast milk.

    Men could NOT do either of these things. So first they worshipped women for the magic of the female abilities, and then, fearful that they would somehow be marginalized due to the powers which women had been given by nature, men then sought to destroy women — hence the term “Gynocide” in the “film.”

    Males have bum-rapped females ever since Adam tried to blame Eve for causing him to desire her. Adam showed Eve his penis — the serpent — and helped the serpent to convince her to try it, to try the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Then after they BOTH indulged in the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of God & Evil — together — Adam turned to God and blamed Eve — taking no blame for his part which was key to the commission of the first “sin.”

    Taking no responsibility he said to God: “The woman beguiled me and I did eat!”

    One of the truly sad things of the modern age is that the more women become like men, the more evil and wicked many of them become.
    In any case, Lars Van Trier is now on my list of vile and despicable creatures — right there with the Marquis de Sade — for the horror of the image of the violent maiming the woman committed on herself that he depicted in this movie.

    I have always said that my life would have been better had I never read a word written by the Marquis de Sade, and now I know it would have been better had I never seen the film Anti-Christ — because for the Life of Me, I cannot get those images out of my head!

    Thanks. I needed to get this out there.

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