It truly is a strange and worrying time at the moment isn’t it. COVID-19 appears to be bringing out the best and worst in people, from fighting in the aisles of supermarkets for toilet roll, to masses of volunteers helping our elderly and vulnerable people. The media have caused a frenzy which is of an unprecedented scale, and while people are being asked to stay home and self isolate, they appear to think sitting home watching netflix and working in their PJs is the apocalypse. While this is a serious situation, people need to be thoughtful and compassionate, this isn’t a kill or be killed situation, this is something we are all in together. Be kind, reach out virtually to people and remember that you don’t need 200 toilet rolls right now.
In the effort to flatten the curve, I have obviously been self isolating – only going out for essentials, so this means less art galleries (although did you know that some you can visit virtually? You can find them here if you are in need of a cultural fix), and more film watching. There is a huge list of films that I have been meaning to work my way through, and for those worthy of either a right up or a good old slating, they will be featuring on here.
The first is “Antichrist” by Lars Von Trier. My goodness, what a film this is. It would be super easy to mark this up as an over indulgent horror with erotic mutilation thrown in just for fun, but actually I think that this is an incredibly clever film which is easily overlooked.
This film is part Von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, which also has “Melancholia” and “Nymphomaniac part 1 & 2” as the accompanying films. There is a subtly, but undeniable link which surpasses the fact that Charlotte Gainsbourg is in all three films, but I will write about the link, on the last article about these four films (yes I know it is odd for a trilogy to have four films…).
The film starts on a fairly wild sex scene between Willem Dafoe and Gainsbourg only ever known as “He” and “She”. As the couple fornicate all over their home in a distinctly primal way, their toddler Nic, climbs up to see the snow falling through an open window and falls out.
At the funeral, She collapses, and wakes up in hospital a month later, where He tells her that they will be rejecting the doctors recommendation of treatment, and He will be treating her with psychotherapy. She makes a comment about how no one else’s treatment is ever good enough – establishing a control that He has on her.
At home, She is manic, suffering panic attacks and having violent tendencies, which the audience assumes is due to the death of her child. He remains professionally cold, only broken by what could be assumed as mourning sex.
Eventually He decides that they will take a trip to their cabin in a place called Eden, where the previous summer they had gone, and She had worked on her thesis. Taking a train, He does some very poor therapy session, and She sees an image of herself screaming in the scenery flashing by. Eventually He gets her to imagine she is part of the landscape around Eden and she “turns green”, blending in to her surroundings.
From the train, the couple trek through countryside to get to the cabin. She appears to be scared of everything, from a hole in the bottom of a tree to a small bridge which crosses a stream. Eventually She runs ahead to the cabin, leaving him to walk alone. The countryside appears to warp around him, as if something here isn’t right. On arriving He finds her asleep on the bed. He opens the window next to them covers her and falls asleep next to her.
From here, many things happen. Acorns fall on the roof waking them, as if they are knocking to come in. He wakes at some stage, his hand has been hanging out the window and is covered in ticks. She has a hallucination of their child crying, She wonders out to find Nic, seeing an image of him in the wood shed playing with a block of wood and she leave him there.
The autopsy report turns up for the child and He reads it, finding out that there was previous damage to the child’s feet. On looking at photos He sees that She has been putting Nic’s shoes on the wrong feet. He has a flashback of other things She has inflicted on the child…tying a teddy to a balloon and making the child jump for it, leaving windows open near the child and the child crying as she forces shoes on him. He confronts her once about it, but the situation is very quickly dismissed.
At some point He comes across a fox disemboweling itself while out walking in the landscape, which says in a slow and eerie voice “Chaos Reigns”.
He finds her studies for her thesis, which is about the evils performed against women of the past, but rather than her questioning the actions, She has almost taken to the frame of thinking that women are evil and deserving of the atrocities of the past such as the trials from witch hunters. There is a passing glimpse of a constellation map which details star signs of the crow, the fox and the deer.
Throughout the film, She instigates ever increasing violent sexual activity. They do have sex in front of the tree with the hole, which as they do their things, arms hang out of the twisted roots of the tree. This later crescendos when She graphically smashes his testicals with a lump of wood and then stimulates him to ejaculation, producing blood. She then bores a hole in his leg with a drill and attaches a grindstone to it. She then lays down next to him and equally graphically cuts off her own cliterous with a pair of scissors.
Prior to the genital mutilation, she refers to a visit from the three beggars… after the mutilation these arrive in the form of a fox, a raven and a deer with a foetus hanging from it. She states that when the beggars arrive they have to take a life.
In another flashback it is revealed that she watch the child fall from the window and rather than saving the child, she continued in her sexual conquest.
He tries to escape with the grindstone attached and hides in the fox hole, but she finds him. Eventually He strangles her and burns her body.
As he limps away from the cabin, passing the tree, a swarm of faceless women walk towards him from all angles.
This is obviously a very short run down of a very detailed film. There are some very key points that can be picked up on though…
He and She are very complicated in their relationship and their actions. She initially appears to be subservient, but actually she holds all the power, using her sexuality to manipulate him. He is full of ego and arrogant. Neither of them appear to be that upset that the child has died, as they are so caught up with themselves and their actions towards each other. They are like a twisted Adam and Eve. She tempts him to the tree of life (or death in this case, as their Eden is completely backwards) and the sex at the base is very much like taking a bite of the apple. She is obsessive about the sins of women, but she is atoned with nature, and performs actions which could be deemed witch like. She masturbates at the base of the tree, causes a man to bleed like a women and seemingly understands the three beggars much like familiars. It is possible that she was suffering munchausens by proxy, damaging her child to get attention, but when He didn’t notice she turned to sex to get his attention, achieving what she wanted, meant there was little need for the child which is why she let him fall from the window.
At some point She does talk about the women she studied “could even make sleet appear”, which makes me wonder if She thought She had created the snow that the child went to see out of the window.
While emasculating him, she also removes the key point of her femininity, rendering them both useless to society (as she sees it). I believe that this plays out as her guilt at being female, rather than her guilt over the death of her child as both characters appear to be too selfish for that.
The Wrong Shoes
As previously mentioned, I think that this was a form for her of munchausen’s by proxy, a cry for help in a world where she felt ignored and sinful for being female. There is also a heavy hint at the Oedipus complex in this action. In the film she says “Freud is dead”, but actually his theory is very much alive, her fear of the prophecy fulfilling either metaphorically or in reality very much alive for her. Oedipus was named for the damage to his feet. The act of her damaging the child’s feet seems to link just a little too conveniently to this for it to be a coincidence. Oedipus, in the story had been left to die in the mountains because of the prophecy that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother, but as we know this film spins stories on their head, so rather than the child being found and the prophecy coming true, in this film the child dies, and the mother sleeps with the father who then kills her. It is almost a social paranoia of a women fearful of the past religions and myths coming full circle.
The Three Beggars
For me, these three animals represented a very twisted version of the three wise men. Remember the guys that bought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus while he chilled out in a manager? They were there to celebrate the life of the newborn savior, where as the fox, the deer and the crow only appear to take a life, with no gifts, just a warning of chaos. The symbolism of these animals, needs to be turned on its head for this film. Foxes usually indicate slyness, but in this film it is the fox that only speaks the truth as it eats itself like the eternal snake. The deer should represent trust and kindness, but is present at the death of her son, and returns for her death. The crow is the only one that keeps its true symbolism indicating death and bad luck as well as magic and mysticism.
I don’t think it is any surprise that this harks back to the creation of man, but in this topsy turvy world, Eden is where the couple are outcast to, rather than being the utopian state.
She remarks at some stage that nature is satan’s church, infuring that mother nature is satan, as it goes against the christian belief that God created everything. She also says that nature controls women’s bodies making them creations of Satan.
We also know that if She represents Eve, then She represents the sins of all women, and how Christianity has painted a very bleak picture of women. When he kills her in the cabin in Eden, this is metaphorically Christianity killing Paganism.
This is an incredible clever and powerful film, which I appreciate not everyone feels, as it is on the surface seemingly particularly misogynistic, but actually I think this is a feminist piece, as when one dies, more come towards the man in force.
This film is steeped in backwards symbolism, and Lars Von Trier wrote this while in a midst of a depression. He says that is was created from visions he had while in an enforced meditation, but for me the reasoning behind the symbols used is very clear.
There is a lot to this film, and really I have only scratched the surface of what is probably an understated masterpiece that people see as a gruesome piece of pornography.
I urge you to watch this film with an open mind, and some creative thinking as to what meaning you find in the actions taken by the two extreme and contrasting characters.
Have you seen “Antichrist”? Why not tell me that you thought in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?