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 as a remake of POSSESSION besides?

Anyone who ever wondered what ZABRISKIE POINT would be like if done by David Lynch, and if he was a bigger fan of David Cronenberg and D.W. Griffith, would be wise to brave it. 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 the public depressive Von Trier (and even the illiterate can relax since it's in English!) The story is simplicity itself: a pair of screwed up marrieds head to a cabin in the woods after their child dies, there to "face her fears" mainly because he doesn't want to sleep with her. 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 exposure, 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 laughing hysterically while watching WAY DOWN EAST, then you'll know why this movie rocks so bad!

It's always amazing to see how many apparently normal people think Von Trier (like Neil LaBute) is a misogynist just because he makes films that address misogyny. In his films misogyny is a warping factor in archetypal cinema-psychology, not just an unconsciously endorsed lifestyle ala every "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 or most of the slasher films 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 the right of femininity to show its true warts-and-all self, its ambiguity over desire and fear, creation and 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.

Compare ANTICHRIST 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 form-fitting slutty clothes, walking in slow motion to an Aerosmith song and men in the audience are encouraged to leer from the safety of the dark and their pack of dudes, or basements. This snarkiness stems from a fear of the "other" that hinges on the 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 a pampered/sheltered American auteur sees so shallowly into the murky waters of the female psyche. The film adaptation of Margaret Atwood's HANDMAID'S TALE (1990), by contrast, shows misogyny as a widespread institution, yet what feminist would dare accuse Margaret Atwood of misogyny? 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 those who just ignore/deny the barbaric practices of some of our extremely fundamentalist Muslim brethren? To me, that act itself means war! We should invade, and rescue these girls before it's too late!

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 such a deluge? Women get knocked around in the films of Von Trier, Peckinpah, Polanski, Hitchcock, but they don't fall down. In a lot of more conventional movies women never even get to stand up. Those 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 --they are the enemies! 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 in OZ melts it's no more a permanent defeat than it would be for Medusa losing a single snake of her hair. Norman knows this all too well; he must kill and display his trophies over and over again. Their hair keeps growing long after their bodies have withered to bone and parchment skin. Death not ends it, only castration... old Teiresius with his dugs, wandering off into the Led Zeppelin wasteland night.

But enough of my deftly Eliot-alluding tirade, I've gone way off-path; let's wander back to the wild of 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 albums) 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 ANTICHRIST confuses thee even after this sterling review, forget about the last 40 years of cinema, and compare it to 1960s and late 1950s Freudian Gothics like SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE and WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF... You might also bring in Tarkovsky's SOLARIS and NOSTALGIA. Lastly, of course, you should compare it to IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES and every other good movie about castration. Aint nothing wrong with sparagmos and genital mutilation if it's done with clear-eyed awareness of the symbolic associations thereto, and by the mutilatee's own choice, not by some barbaric institutionalized misogyny. Second to lastly, dig up some moldy wet dirt-encrusted comparisons to the Japanese horror film, MATANGO and of course FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41.

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, all just what the tree root says while you're outside, lost and tripping, a mere 20 feet from the front door. And if you're going / to San Fran / cisco / 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 pusss-ay.


  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.

  2. A brilliant film. It can be read as one of the great "witchcraft "films of all time. Charlotte"s character has been possessed from the first scene. In a flashback of the child's death, mid film, Charlotte stares directly at the baby reaching for his bear, moments before his death. Von Trier indicates that she was aware the child had begun to climb out of his crib. She 'forgot" to secure the crib and close the window. We realize that she has tormented the child with misfitting shoes and ignores his cries. Her "madness" has been brewing for a long time.
    The protagonists we come to understand as fringe, iconoclasts. Her doctorate is merely a scrapbook with increasingly sloppy script. One wonders if she is actually connected to any university. Same goes for the therapist husband who dismisses "medicine" and psychiatrists, undertaking a punishing, non medicated talk therapy while his wife writhes in mental anguish. "Nature" sends pine cones, symbolic animals, smothering verdant overgrowth. A claustrophobic cabin intensifies the horror.
    Point being we, the viewers, experience their excruciating confrontation with raw, primitive energies. Extraordinary. To be viewed many times!!!!


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