James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

Review: ANTICHRIST

ANTICHRIST (dir-scr. Lars Von Trier, 2009)

Dutch provocateur Lars Von Trier’s ANTICHRIST is a mature work of art from a filmmaker, by his own admission, in the bleak throes of major depression, one who has produced a motion picture to be reckoned with, albeit one destined to be perceived as perhaps profoundly silly as well as profound. Owing to a penchant for shocking, surreal horror imagery, once the film hits DVD its cult status is assured.

Von Trier’s works typically demand more of the viewing audience than most people who see movies only as sources of escapist entertainment (rather than truly emotional or enlightening experiences) are willing to expend, and ANTICHRIST is no exception. The masses demand to be spoon-fed narratives that reinforce comforting falsehoods about the ideas of good, evil and the possibility of redemption, but that’s not how Von Trier (BREAKING THE WAVES, DANCER IN THE DARK) rolls.

The film opens with a nameless couple, He and She (Willem Dafoe, Cannes Best Actress winner Charlotte Gainsbourg) having ecstatic, joyful sex while their toddler falls to his death from an open window. A therapist by trade, Dafoe insists on treating his devastated, bereaved wife’s tenacious grief himself, and decries her medical doctor’s prescriptions as the answer. His motivation makes him suspect to his spouse, if not quite the audience—at worst, his intentions seem misguided, borne by what she calls his arrogance. Her issues go beyond grief, however—He will find that She now equates the act of sexual congress not with the bringing of joy and life, but of anger, and death. Le petit mort indeed.

The story’s setup exists to get the characters into their allegorical anti-garden of Eden, a cabin situated in a wooded glade, a location of pure unbridled nature: “Satan’s Church,” a place where chaos reigns, and the wife’s grief, pain, and despair (the titles of the film’s chapters) will manifest in an orgy of disturbing sexual violence pushing the boundaries not only of taste, but of reason itself.

Eschewing the doctrinaire tenets of Dogme 95, the austere filmmaking manifesto Von Trier had once adopted, here the artist employs effects and a stylized soundfield that remind one of David Lynch at his most surreal. Bookended by an elegantly photographed prologue & epilogue set to Handel’s “‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from ‘Rinaldo'”, ANTICHRIST is a quiet film that builds slowly to its terrifying scenes of both unexplained , symbolic phenomena—a talking fox, a deer running with a half-birthed dead calf hanging from its hindquarters—as well as depraved acts committed by She upon her husband, and at the climax, Herself.

Viewers will find much to decry about this film (including what some have charged as misogyny), but at the same time there is also considerable beauty (anti-beauty?) and artistry on display, making ANTICHRIST not only one of Von Trier’s most accomplished and fully realized visions, but a worthy addition to the canon of challenging world cinema. Highest recommendation, with some reservations.

A side note: If there were any justice in the pop culture world, “Chaos Reigns” would be the new “Where’s the Beef?” or “Aye-caramba,” but likely won’t ever happen. Too bad—I’m still trying to get over “I drink your milkshake!” not taking off either. C’est la vie.

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About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest book, a story collection called The Year They Canceled Christmas, releases in November 2017.

2 Replies

  1. ” Le petit mort indeed” exactly what does that mean, I can infer, but would really like to know for sure what it means. Your writing is so eloquent that it flows and I enjoy reading it. I must admit though that at times I have to look up some of the words you use.
    By your description of the movie, it will be something I probably wouldn’t want to see; I am depressed enough with the world. My tastes lean more to “Life of Brian” type movies and I do love mysteries and chillers if not too graphic with gore.
    I am happy I read your review and I can understand its content. No doubt is a good film, but for the, “fox talking. etc” it seems like it delves too far into one’s dark side and I can see “She’s” point.

  2. Angel, le petit mort is French for “the little death,” a/k/a orgasm.

    Thanks for reading! And no, the movie is not for everyone.

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