Antichrist Lars von Trier

Antichrist Lars von Trier
Antichrist opens with "He" (Willem Dafoe) and "She" (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a married couple shot in gorgeously high-contrast black-and-white, having sex while their infant son crawls out the window. It closes with "She" using a pair of rusty scissors to cut off her clitoris. In a career full of bleak films, Lars von Trier's Antichrist stands alone: here is a film that presents a series of horrific images and forces us to deal with them, providing no handholding and making no compromises. I should say upfront that I reacted strongly to Antichrist – not just to the extraordinary performances by Dafoe and Gainsbourg, or simply the oppressive atmosphere, or the stunning cinematography, or any number of other things the film does well, but to the horrific images themselves, which continue to resonate with me months later. Antichrist was announced as von Trier's first horror film, then as his version of the Biblical creation story, positing an alternate version where the Earth was of Satan's making. In interviews, von Trier has been wilfully vague about his intentions, downplaying both the horror and religious elements and talking about how the film was directly rooted in his bouts of depression. Because the onscreen feelings and events come so directly from von Trier's subconscious, we don't have the comfort of knowing that he has some greater moral agenda. Indeed, in one of the DVD extras, we see a reporter at Cannes ask him point-blank, "Why did you make this film?" Knowing Lars von Trier is a Catholic convert (and myself being a lapsed Catholic layman) allows me to speculate on his motives. Von Trier is presumably well aware of the concept of original sin, and I'm positive he is acutely aware of Catholic dogma forbidding premarital sex – dogma that conflicts somewhat with one's natural desire to have sex. Catholic man wants sex, but fears it is sinful, and since the book of Genesis immediately establishes Eve as subordinate to Adam, man is intimidated by the notion that woman should have sexual desires too. In Genesis, the serpent tempts Eve to eat fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge, and then she tempts Adam to eat also, before God banishes them from Eden. In Antichrist, He and She retreat to a cabin in a forest called "Eden" after their son's death, and the forest seems intrinsically evil as soon as they set foot in it. Perhaps their "fall from grace" occurred in the opening sex scene, where He succumbs to the lure of female sexuality? In Antichrist, "She" speculates that all women are evil – if God exists, but all life is born sinful, perhaps von Trier is suggesting that woman, the giver of life, who creates life through sex, must therefore be the source of evil. I don't believe von Trier really thinks women are evil, but I do believe that his body of work suggests a preoccupation with, and fear of, female sexuality. After all, what could be a greater symbol of male sexual insecurity than removing the clitoris? I don't know what Antichrist will mean to you, and I can't say for certain what it means to von Trier, but I know what it means to me. The eOne DVD includes most of the same extras as the Criterion edition, including documentaries, interviews and a commentary between film scholar Murray Smith and von Trier, who is typically cagey about his intentions and more open to explaining the film's technical dimensions. (eOne)