Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
(Zentropa Entertainment; Limited: 23 Oct 2009; UK theatrical: 24 Jul 2009 (Wide); 2009)
A controversial screening at Cannes, Antichrist has already become notorious for dividing audiences—with some recoiling in utter disgust, and others who seem unable to contain their unbridled excitement. Although, the premise of the piece is far too expansive to encapsulate in a matter of words, essentially it is about a grieving couple that escape to a country retreat called Eden to grieve over the tragic loss of their son. Soon, psychological torture leads to violent physical manifestations between He (Willem Dafoe, who looks eerily Satanic in this role), and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whose unnerving portrayal is equally sympathetic and deplorable. A confrontational, and visceral viewing experience, Antichrist is von Trier’s most disturbing film—unrelenting in its cruelty, the piece is hardly what one would deem ‘conventional’ audience fare.
However, it is the filmmakers’ unflinching desire to affect his viewers that makes Antichrist so heroic. Von Trier is fueled by a brutal vision that details the despair of the human condition, without compromise. His picture unravels an unconventional theology, which suggests that the world, with all of it’s agonizing suffering, must have been created by Satan (as opposed to God), suggesting that evil and chaos will continue to reign supreme in the end.
Beautiful cinematography brings the wilderness of Eden to life, while a bare musical score, interspersed with the occasional operatic aria helps perpetuate the audiences’ nerve-wracking anticipation. Populist audiences and critics will disavow von Trier’s masterpiece because of its explicit content, but let me pose this question, had the film fallen into the more accessible (and shallow) horror film genre, would they be reacting so vehemently against it? Perhaps one of the most affecting films I have seen in years, Antichrist is a definite force to be reckoned with.