It's rare that I find myself truly indifferent to a film -- especially a film that is so clearly and openly divisive. But that's exactly how I feel about Antichrist: completely indecisive. I see both sides, understanding the people who love it, voraciously devouring every lyrical moment, while simultaneously getting why people hate the living crap out of it. A deliberately offensive opus of shock, this film will at some moment find something disagreeable for everybody. But unlike most films that rely upon shock, director Lars von Trier has no intention of making you laugh. Quite the contrary. He wants to make you recoil. He wants to challenge your sense of morality and taste. And he wants to make you feel, one way or another.
But that's not necessarily a good thing.
By now you've most likely heard about it. Widely panned at Cannes by some, praised by others, and completely spoiled in the press, especially on the Drudge Report in which its final scenes were spoiled in headlines splashed across the front page. It is not a nice film. It is dark, brooding, melancholy, and more than a little mean-spirited. Loaded from top to bottom with nudity, sexuality, and even a slow-motion shot that will itself ensure that this gets the dreaded NC-17 rating (as well it should for the level of adult content in this), it is at times a bit distracting. There's so much nudity in this thing that I almost feel as if it should be renamed Lars Von Trier's I Hate Pants! There are even a few scenes in which the characters lack pants for no good reason. But then again, there's a lot of things in this that some would argue are here for no good reason. It is violent, bloody, and disturbingly sexual for a goodly portion of the film. Not in small doses. The majority of the film aims to offend you in one manner or another.
So why is it getting rave reviews? Because it is also one of the most beautifully shot, stylish, artistic films you will ever see in your life. Von Trier has abandoned his long maligned style of needlessly handheld nausea-inducing camera work and invested in such newfangled gadgets as tripods and steadycams, and he uses them to great effect, crafting a lush palate upon which he paints fear, grief, agony, and torment. The story revolves around a married couple played brilliantly by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (named in the credits as He and She), who in the opening sequence lose their only child -- a youngster who takes a header out of a third story window. Defoe is a therapist who decides to treat his wife, who is now crippled by grief over the loss of her son. But as the story develops, we begin to see that Gainsbourg has more than bereavement troubling her. She might, in fact, be completely bonkers. But at the same time, they exist in a forest which may or may not be alive -- populated with a number of bizarre, possibly sentient animals and trees.
What's it all about? Hell if I know. I've heard a number of theories both for and against. But what is absolutely clear is that while Von Trier succeeds at crafting a masterful piece of moving art, he manages not to impart upon the audience a single, tangible idea that they all share. Everyone walks out with a different impression, but not in a good way. Arguments are about whether the film is decidedly misogynistic or wildly feminist; whether Defoe is crazy or whether the couple deserves everything that happens to them. I've run through the film a number of times in my head and discussed it with some of the best online film minds in the world and found not a person with a clear grasp of exactly what Von Trier is trying to say.
What is certain is that he means to offend and he does just that. This movie will get under your skin and will delight cinephiles with its visuals, but it is a muddled mess of message and story that ultimately will leave you scratching your head wondering what the hell it was all about. Not at all a film for the mainstream, Antichrist is exclusively for those film buffs who delight in watching films that the critics argue about and vary wildly on. But this critic gives it a solid C. Worth the watch once, but never again.