Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Antichrist



I have a confession to make.

I don’t like Lars Von Trier.

Like at all.

The reason is simple. Von Trier is someone I don’t trust. And as the old truism goes, without trust there can be no love. Now let me be clear here, when I say trust I don’t mean I don’t trust Von Trier to give me a safe experience. Many of the filmmakers I cherish most Herzog, Jodorowsky, and Afronsky are filmmakers dedicated to making unsafe films.

But they mean it. And that to me is the core of the problem with Von Trier. I don’t trust him to mean what he makes. There is never a moment in any Von Trier film where I am sure that Von Trier is not simply fucking with me.

Once again, this is not so much a problem in and of itself. I could spin off a list of filmmakers I delight in, who take nothing but the greatest pleasure in fucking with me. The problem is Von Trier combines his terminal insincerity with a ponderous solemnity that makes them night unbearable for me to watch.

I think you can boil down my problems with Von Trier to one film, Breaking The Waves. Ironic because it’s the film his defenders usually flock to. But look at that film, really look at it. Von Trier cheats, by making God literally a big scary voice he makes it a story of madness not faith (the line is true exceedingly thin). So when the big moving Bergman on steroids climax comes, the one that breaks so many hearts, I sit arms crossed unmoved. Because I can’t shake the feeling that he is. Just. Fucking. With me.

And sadly this is the case with so many of his films. It is not simply enough to execute Bjork or stage the version of Our Town they play in hell, you must have some reason to do it, beyond the love outrage (and this is where Michael Haeneke that other ponderous titan of European cinema gets the one up on Von Trier for me. I at least believe Haeneke buys his own ponderous bullshit). Von Trier’s entire career, his invention and abandonment of Dogme, his empty provocation, his occasional experiments with genre cinema, the fact that he let a fucking robot direct The Boss Of It All, seems like one long nasty mean spirited prank. The joke is of course directly on us. Because we’re dumb enough to care. Not just because we dare to care about his films, but any film. And that’s a punchline where the laugh catches in my throat.

So why am I even bothering to watch Antichrist? Because critics I like and respect have been fascinated by it. Because I’m drawn to filmmakers I don’t understand always hoping to find the window that’ll let me understand them. Because the batshit craziness of the Chaos Reigns Meme intrigued me. Because Willem Dafoe is one of my favorite actors. And because its been sitting there, a challenge a major film by a major filmmaker.



How was it?

Well at first it seemed like more of the same. Even the infamous opening, featuring a baby plummeting to its death seemed like empty provocation. A dare to stop watching, little more then the world’s classiest dead baby joke, (What’s the difference between a dozen dead babies and the despair and hopelessness of the human condition? I don’t have the despair and hopelessness of the human condition in my garage.)

The film continues merrily on, making a vague allegory of therapy’s uselessness, and the desire for male dominance, more exploitive pieta like suffering from his women and yada yada yada, There’s a deer with a dead fetus hanging out its backside, and I’m just about to give up when this happens.



This particular instant meme marks a shift in the film and in my thinking of it. What follows, is less of a planned out film then a psychological purge. Its like what The Shining might have been like if Kubrick had woken up every night shrieking from a reoccurring night terror. As the film spiraled further and further into the realm of performance art, I thought “Holy shit he actually means it this time.”

Because make no mistake, The last forty minutes of Antichrist is as primal and unguarded a piece of film as I’ve ever seen. By the timee you have Willem Dafoe burrowing his way into the Earth only to be dug out by a shrieking frothing Gainsborough, you can’t help but wonder just what the fuck is going on.

Antichrist, is a film that’s more or less useless to write about, since watching it is almost a physical experience. There’s nothing passive about it. I can for example say that I find it odd, that the scene in which Willem Dafoe has his testicles mashed with a large block of wood and then is given a handjob until he comes blood has gotten more attention then the scene in which Gainsborough severs her own clitoris. But what does that even mean?

Antichrist almost seems beyond film criticism. Sure Gainsborough and Dafoe give fearless performances but, trying to judge them against is an exercise in futility. The film is a genuine… well a genuine something, but its less a film then an object. Criticizing it feels like trying to criticize a rock. It just kind of is.

Of course, maybe all this means is that Von Trier has fooled me at last. Well if so more power to him. I can’t help but think that someone who’d make this as a lark, is in some ways even more disturbing then someone who’d make this as a primal scream.

8 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Excellent writeup. I don't like Von Trier either, although I can appreciate Dogville a little. But I hated Antichrist.

Planet of Terror said...

We reviewed this last week. I'm curious about your take. So many different ways to interpret this. How do you feel about the misogynistic vibe or criticism towards the film?

You can check out our review here, BTW:

http://www.attackfromplanetb.com/

Bryce Wilson said...

I really liked yours and Em's write ups. They where part of what got me off my duff to see the film.

Like I said, its a tough film to critique. Even the misogyny, It's so misogynistic its almost beyond misogyny.

Planet of Terror said...

Whoops, don't know how that other link ended up there (Attack from planet B is a cool site though :).

Here's ours again: http://www.planetofterror.com/2010/03/antichrist-2009.html

Anywhos, thanks Bryce. Whats interesting though is to read everyone's take on it (Emily's especially) and see how disparate they are. I thought it seemed like there were a lot of misogynistic undertones while Emily thought Dafoe's character was actually the evil one. Amazing how sexuality comes into play with the viewing of the film.

Bryce Wilson said...

Well there's no doubt that Dafoe is a pompous asshole but that doesn't make him evil.

The thing is I think the movie is aware that it's misogynistic, but can't help it. "Like Von Trier's going I know it's crazy to think this way. But I still think this way!"

Emily said...

I do stand by Von Trier not being a misogynist, but I will more than concur that the dude loves his ladies in pain. Maybe it's like the old Argento quote about watching beautiful women die, Von Trier just can't REALLY resist tearing off a lovely lady's genitalia or having her raped by the whole village. Still,I think the hell he puts his women through is more intended to make the men look far worse.

He got similar beef for Dogville--not my favorite, but a film I respect--being called so anti-American when (gasp) he'd never been to the United States!

Bryce Wilson said...

Dogville is kind of exhibit A for Von Trier problems with me.

Lord knows I don't have a problem with films critical of America. But if Von Trier scored any points more salient then "Boy American's sure like their rape." I must have missed them.

This brings me to the "fucking with me" quotient. I don't think that Von Trier wanted to make a film about America and its problems. I think he wanted to make a film in which he got to gang rape the most famous woman in the world. Not so much because of misogyny, but because its SHOCKING! Just like the technique which would be laughed out of any avant garde theater in America is used to disguise the inherent emptiness because its WEIRD. Not because it adds anything to the meaning of the film.

Emily said...

It's funny. I watched Dogville right around the time I was teaching Our Town to an advanced English class in Korea, so I was definitely in a specific place (geographically and intellectually) for it. AT the time, I dug the bare set and found it worked in boiling this town down to its people and dynamics while still feeling like, dare I say it, America.

I recently picked up the DVD for $3 at Duane Reade (odd, I know) and have been meaning to watch it with commentary. I've yet to see Manderlay, but you do make a good point about Kidman. I wonder how the film may have played out with a lesser known actress in the lead.