Wednesday, October 7, 2009

#66 Antichrist - Lars von Trier (2009) - “Nature is Satan’s Church”

Before I start, let me say that I would absolutely recommend that about 90% of you not see Lars von Trier's new masterpiece, Antichrist.

It is unbelievably hard to watch. If
Antichrist were food, it would be Guatemalan insanity peppers.

Yes, it is brilliant and von Trier comes closer than ever to reaching the greatness of
Breaking the Waves, (#28 on my top 100 list if you were wondering) but seriously, I would not wish this film on most people.

The vast majority of you will not appreciate or understand that and I do not mean that as an insult in any way.

On the contrary, I think that there must be something wrong with me the way I connected so deeply with Charlotte Gainsbourg's character, the figurative Antichrist for whom the film is named, and felt like I understood this movie so well.

Having said that, this is not only an unusually astute film, but also a very important one, socially and philosophically speaking, that the remaining 10% of you must seek out, no matter how hard it is going to be to find.

And it
is going to be fucking near impossible to find seeing as how we live in a town without an art-house to speak of and when, at last this is released on DVD I can pretty much guarantee that you'll have to seek it out at an independent shop or buy it online.

And if it ends up making a run at the Tivoli, I'll apologize. They ran
Inland Empire and for that, I am eternally grateful. That was Lynch's first film to come out after I moved here and I really thought I was going to miss it so Tivoli, thank you.

One more thing before I dig in.

This is being promoted as a horror film. Oh my God, it is so not.

It is horrifying, revolting even. It says something about a film that it made me look away a couple of times.

But it is not your standard horror fare as there is not a single thrill to be had.

There is also no paranormal element. The title,
Antichrist, is metaphorical.

So here we go.

It would be very hard, if not impossible, to argue that Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves was not easily one of the best films to come out of the independent revolution of the 1990’s.

It is equally impossible to talk about feminism in film without talking at length about von Trier's body of work.

He may be one of the most misunderstood filmmakers not only of our, but of any time.

I have heard von Trier called a misogynist, which is a laughable accusation.

I don't remember which critic it was, but someone actually called Breaking a "celebration of women's suffering."

Clearly, the suffering of women is the theme that ties his films together, but this misery seems to make him by turns weary, morose and livid.

I truly wonder if something horrible happened to a woman that he loved at some point early in his life for this to be so rooted in his cognition.

Breaking was a grizzly epic, a thesis on both the suffering and the heroism of women.

It was one of those rare film, I think there have only been six or seven of them, when I sat through the credits and several minutes of employees cleaning up popcorn after the showing because I was just too emotionally exhausted to move.

My heart still breaks every time I think of Bess’ willingness to forfeit her very soul trying to save someone she loves, losing her life in the process.

Seriously, try to wrap your mind around the gravity of Bess' actions.

She believes with all of her being that her actions will condemn her to an eternity in the fires of hell.

This belief is very real to her and this danger of burning forever is as real to her as any worldly, physical danger is to anyone.

And she makes the sacrifice anyway to redeem this man she so desperately loves.

Bess is one of the most beautiful and selfless characters, not only in film, but in art.

Von Trier followed Breaking the Waves with Dancer in the Dark, another tribute to women’s proclivity to self-sacrifice.

Selma's child will not go blind even though it will cost Selma her life.

Again, a woman, suffering and selfless.

That was followed by Dogville, where the other side of the coin of the misery of women was wrath rather than nobility.

Von Trier's anger, like Grace's was more than understandable and even righteous up to a point.

These are three masterpieces that will stay with you forever once you’ve seen them and von Trier’s latest film, Antichrist is no exception.

To say that the opening sequence of Antichrist plays out like one of Lynch’s Obsession commercials would be accurate but flippant, thick and unfair.

We are treated, right out of the gate, to a black and white montage of Willem Dafoe making sweet slo-mo love to his special lady inter-cut with images of a toddler wandering around the apartment with an aria from Rinaldo by Handel playing in the background.

Von Trier isn't exactly going for subtle here. Character with a God complex accompanied by music by Handel, the guy who composed The Messiah.

The first thing that struck me was just how goddamn un-Dogma this movie was.

Then, we are jerked from this surreal opening straight into a beautifully shot, devastating tragedy.

The rest of the film continues to break pretty much every rule that von Trier set up for the Dogma movement, but you can still see that harsh realism under the surface, trying to claw its way out of every dream sequence, every camera trick, every metaphor, every art-house cliché.

This is probably the first time I have ever used the word cliché without meaning it as a rebuke.

Von Trier swings them like a hammer with deliberate purpose, contrasting them with the realism of the harsh, raw open-nerved emotions his characters are dealing with.

The dream sequences and artsy flashbacks cut into the horrific realism the way the musical numbers broke up the tragic evens of Dancer.

Willem Dafoe is a therapist whose wife is understandably falling apart after the death of their child.

Dafoe quickly finds fault with the care she is receiving from a colleague and breaks one of the rules he lives by as a therapist: don’t treat family.

Of course, it isn’t long before he finds himself breaking another rule: don’t fuck your patient.

But give the guy a break.

He’s married to the woman.

Still. Turns out, banging your

patient, even if you’re married to her is not a good idea.

It is established almost immediately that this film is about payback.

The puzzle lies in figuring out which character has it coming.

You have the therapist, Willem Dafoe’s best performance since The Last Temptation of Christ, whose narcissism is so bountiful, whose God-complex is so vast that von Trier names the film after the character who defies him: Antichrist.

And just as we have tentatively decided who to indict, we realize, to our shame that nobody has it coming. We have spent a hundred minutes thinking about blame, as have the characters in this harsh and disturbing film.

But despite the events in the opening sequence, bad things do not happen because we fuck.

And suppressing our sexuality to the point of mutilation, sometimes figurative, sometimes tragically literal is never the answer.

Von Trier’s point here is this: Nature is not Satan’s church.

It sounds like a ridiculous notion, but it’s ingrained in our collective psyche nevertheless.

We think of human sexuality, the most natural thing in the world, as a breeding ground for all that is wicked.

We do in fact believe that nature is Satan’s church.

But we do not have it coming. We do not deserve it. We have to stop punishing ourselves.

It’s more than sad, it is appalling how people see God, but this is an accurate portrait of how western Christianity has set him up.

Like von Trier presents Willem Dafoe's therapist, Christians have painted God as a malicious being who talks about love, but whose sole purpose is actually to dole out unflinching, unforgiving and unjust punishment.

Too many see him as evangelical America has presented him: as a brute to be followed by the anonymous and faceless masses.

That is how so many see God because that is what too many of our religious leaders have been insisting for centuries that he is.