Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Friday, November 13, 2009

Acid's Greatest Horror #1: ANTICHRIST (2009)

My original conception of a #1 one horror acid movie has hovered between THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, THE WICKER MAN and HOUR OF THE WOLF. How awesome then, that Lars Von Trier's ANTICHRIST should come along and perfectly encompass all three, and work almost a a remake of POSSESSION besides?

Anyone who ever wondered what ZABRISKIE POINT would be like if done by David Lynch,in the forest, if Lynch was a bigger fan of David Cronenberg and D.W. Griffith, would be wise to... but wait, I'm mixing too many references and comparisons. Sum: ANTICHRIST is great, don't let the frightened critics spook you just because there's some genital mutilation and shocking sexuality. You can handle it. If you're like me and a lifelong victim of anxiety and depression, then you'll really handle it. In fact, you'll dig into it so deep you may just decide to lie in it like a deep root coffin, hoping for your own Charlotte Gainsbourg to come fill the hole above you with comforting black dirt, while you wait for the comforting kiss of the conqueror worm!

Though a toddler figures into it, and some talking forest animals (!) this is a two person piece, which is fine when the people are Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg and the man behind the scenes is public depressive Lars Von Trier (and even the illiterate can relax since it's in English!) The story is simplicity itself: a pair of screwed up marrieds return to a cabin in the woods after their child dies, there to "face her fears." Charlotte goes insane from grief and her man's constant self-righteous attempts to "cure" her crippling anxiety (he's a behavioral therapist). Along the way, ye olde link between psychiatry and witch burning is exhumed, but mainly the landscape warps and weaves just like its wont to do when one is... warped. If you've ever been on major psychedelic drugs in the woods and gotten lost and wound up having a six hour conversation with a tree root about your impending death by starvation and exposire, only to find out you've been sitting in the petrified remains of a half-eaten fox and--oh wait, it's just some leaves, and anyway you've only been outside two minutes, and you're just a yard from the house where your friends are inside fingerpainting, then you'll know why this movie rocks so bad!

It's always amazing to see how many apparently normal people think Von Trier is a misogynist because he makes films that address misogyny -- as a warping factor in archetypal cinema-psychology -- not as an unconsciously endorsed lifestyle ala the "rom-com." If you want a list of real misogynists in cinema, just look at: Michael Bay, Cameron Crowe, or the geniuses behind PORKY'S, LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN and/or any stupid sex comedy to come along in the early 1980s.

Can I venture to say that the label "misogyny" is in this context only a detriment if its clearly unconscious on the part of the director and the film is marred by a subtextual contempt/hostility for the feminine. Von Trier's film may be partially about the "misogynistic response" but it in no way condones that response, and in fact rejects it. Yet the same critics who hate ANTICHRIST undoubtedly are rejecting something too, the right of femininity to show its true warts-and-all self, the raw ambiguity of desire and creation/destruction. For many supposedly enlightened critics, to see this thing is to automatically have to throw a rock at it, like a snake in the woods. And yet, it's Von Trier that they then accuse of hating snakes, just for daring to show them.

Compare ANTICHRIST now to a Michael Bay movie such as TRANSFORMERS, wherein the fear of the feminine means every chick in the film (the few) have to be stunningly gorgeous in a wet t-shirt, walking in slow mo to an Aerosmith song... That is objectification at its worst, and men in the audience are encouraged to leer from the safety of the dark and their pack of dudes. This snarkiness stems from a fear of the "other" that hinges on sociopathic. Since there's not enough access to full understanding of female oppression vs. the barrage of sensationalistic media that assaults the average American every day, it's not surprising they see so shallowly into the murky waters of the female psyche. The film adaptation of Margaret Atwood's HANDMAID'S TALE (1990), for example, shows misogyny as a widespread institution, yet what feminist would dare accuse Margaret Atwood? and the genital mutilation shown in ANTICHRIST is forced upon many girls--even today--as they reach puberty, so who is more a misogynist, Lars or the all the people who just ignore/deny the barbaric practices of our more extremely fundamentalist Muslim brethren?

May I venture to take a page from the book of Camille Paglia and suggest that if someone is afraid to look head on into the wild devouring Dionysian oceanic dissolution represented by pure unleashed feminine sexual drive, then it is they who are the misogynists not the artists who at least have the cajones to face it? Women get knocked around in the films of Von Trier, Peckinpah, Polanski, Hitchcock, but they don't fall down. Their films are more fearless and honest than those of the countless directors who--rather than wade into the vaginal sea-- just scoop out a handful of muck from off the bank and then parade it around on a stick, or wrap it in tight spandex and shoot it out of a wet t-shirt canon, then wait to film it after the threat has been "subdued", i.e. objectified, crashed, burned at the stake, and/or mangled. Is there a difference between silicone and sawdust when it comes to Norman's mommy's smothering breasts? Ding dong the witch is dead but when the witch melts back into ooze it's no more a permanent defeat than it would be for Medusa losing a snake of her hair. Norman knows this all too well; he must kill and display his trophies over and over again; the hair keeps growing long after the body has withered to bone and parchment skin. Death not ends it, only castration... Ancient, old Teiresius with his dugs, wandering off into the Led Zeppelin wasteland night.

In short, it's only when you need to prove you're not afraid, via sexual violence, winky objectification or smug condescension, that misogyny does its true damage (cinematically speaking). That is, unless you're the type of person who mistakes ignorance for innocence and conscience for guilt. 

But enough of my tirade, let's wander back to the woods, where there's Charlotte Gainsbourg--raw and feral--as a castrating lunatic, digging deep into warrens to hunt her smug covertly gynocidal therapist husband. Gainsbourg even as a child showed she gave not a crap about social taboo, just by being sired by reprobate Serge (they sang "Lemon Incest" together on her teen pop debut) and here she is, acting it up in a string of solid Gallic hits and now this performance, which is the gutsiest, rawest thing I've seen since Isablle Adjani in POSSESSION or Isabelle Huppert in THE PIANO TEACHER, and if the Oscars had any chutzpah she'd win next March, but there you go, more proof who really is the misogynist here - c'est Oscar!!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, just see it! Or warm up with DOGVILLE and ZENTROPA, for this film seems truly like a combo of those two, and the canine presence just adds to the trippy fun. If you get confused, don't compare ANTICHRIST with anything else you've seen this decade. Compare it to 1960s and late 1950s Freudian Gothic like SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE and WHOSE AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF... lastly, of course, you should compare it to IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES and every other good movie about castration! Hubba Hubba! Aint nothing wrong with genital mutilation if it's done with clear-eyed awareness of the symbolic associations thereto. Lastly, dig up some moldy wet dirt-encrusted comparisons to the Japanese horror film, MATANGO!

In the end, just keep repeating "No sexual organs or appendages were harmed during the making of this movie." It's all a dream, all just stuff that transpires in that murky woods that exists between the unconscious symbolic and the ambiguity of the real. If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair, otherwise the loving people there will rip you to shreds and eat you alive, until all that's left is just a mouth, still screaming down the wind... for puss-ay.

(see my list of ANTICHRIST'S Cine-chthonic relations on BLAD)

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts here, Erich.

    Of course I was not a fan of this film at all, but I respect your opinion and where you're coming from. I don't think that von Trier is always a misogynist (although it's hard to argue against stuff like Dancer in the Dark and Breaking the Waves), but more so than ever here he is a misanthrope...and I just didn't care for this film or its HEAVY melodrama. Maybe I'm a cold-hearted bastard, but I laughed in disbelief through a lot of this film. It just all felt so silly and I wasn't willing to take von Trier seriously because I don't think he takes his audience seriously.

    Still...the film is polarizing and I definitely sit on the anti-Antichrist side of the argument. Your review is just another one of many good defenses I've read about the film.