Art is a form of self-expression, and the concept of art is a many faceted stone. Each facet of said stone represents a different form of art. Drawing, painting, sculpting, weaving, photography, writing, and so on. The artist may have a specific focus when pouring themself into a creation. They may hope to evoke a specific mood or emotion in viewers of the finished product. They may hope to express what they have found to be difficult to express by any other means. Yes, art is indeed a form of self-expression.
The art of film making is yet another form of art which is exemplified in the world of the independent film. I have a deep appreciation for independent films, as they tend to take more risks and try to actually put forth a movie that has substance. Subjects and plot lines that aren’t necessarily cut and dry, but that cause the movie-goer to think. They try to touch something within the audience.
All that being said, it is not under the control of the movies creator as to how the viewers will react…as much as they try, it’s not always possible. The deeper and darker someone travels within themselves to pull out a story, the more mixed the resultant reactions will be (in many cases). In the end some movies are just a crap shoot. The film has been made, released to the masses, and it is then out of the director’s hands.
I recently watched a film that many would consider to be an “art film”. I will agree that this film is worthy of the label “art film”, and go one further by calling it an “esoteric art film.” I have ventured into a number of those thought provoking worlds. Some have left me feeling satisfied in one way or another, and others have left me feeling cheated or even bored. So where did this latest film leave me?
Before I continue, the name of the film is “Anti-Christ.” I had wanted to see it for some time as the little I had read about it intrigued me. The fact that Willem Dafoe is in it was also a positive selling point. He has occupied a place on my favorite actors list for some time. The film was painted to have a supernatural side. A therapist and his wife travel to a secluded cabin in the woods to deal with grief caused by the tragic death of their young son. I am paraphrasing, but that’s what I got from the short blurbs I read. That description is true enough, but what I ended up seeing is far removed from what I was pre-conditioned for.
Before I sat down to start writing my impressions on this film, I decided to not do any surfing on the net in preparation. Director Lars Von Trier wrote and directed “Anti-Christ”, and I didn’t want to read any interviews with him. I also didn’t want to see what other views were on what the film is actually about. I would say that “Anti-Christ” is a film that best falls under the category of “up to individual interpretation.” From the moment the film started, I felt plunged into a place of…discomfort.
The structure of the film is laid out in chapters, beginning with the epilogue. Shot in black and white, and running in slo-mo, the two characters at the core of the film (Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as wife/mother) are in the shower. This scene evolves into close-ups of rather graphic sex. These close-ups are interspersed with shots of their young son climbing out of his crib, and walking into the room to watch his parents in action. The young boy sees an open window in the room, crawls up onto the table by it, and proceeds to walk out and fall to his death. As for the construction of the epilogue section, I kept feeling like Von Trier was trying too hard to be David Lynch…and failing. Maybe Von Trier did want to project feelings of distaste, but the switching back and forth between shots of the boy walking to his death and the parents twisted bodies and contorting faces was unsettling. All of this was set to a soundtrack of an aria (Lascio Chi'o Pianga) from Handel’s, ‘Rinaldo’.
For the remainder of this post, I will be calling the two primary characters “He” and “She”…those are the monikers given them by Von Trier when he penned the tale. Both parents are grief stricken, the mother doubly so. After a collapse at the boys’ funeral she is hospitalized and prescribed drugs which her therapist husband is against. “He” decides that she is better off without the pills, and he feels he can treat her in a more healthy way by having her face her grief. From this point forward, I’m not going to get into a detailed blow-by-blow account of the film as it is extremely convoluted. To do that would be far too tedious…and confusing, really. Before sitting down to watch “Anti-Christ”, I had expectations of a horror movie in a paranormal vein. That’s not completely off the mark in terms of my interpretation of things. This film is truly an example of interpretation being directly seated in ones head space at the time. There were noticeable hints here and there about where Von Triers wanted to take me on his journey, but they were not strong enough to carry me down his path. “She” was scared of the forest where the cabin is…the cabin where most of the film takes place. “She” spent time alone there with her son. It was during that time that she seemed to slip into madness/go crazy. “He” takes her back to the cabin in the dreaded forest to face her fears. Once there, the film takes off into a world of symbolism, and nympho-maniacal and masochistic sex. “She” seems to exhibit a split personality (which feeds my initial impression of her going crazy), and goes in and out of having to sleep, and/or mount her husband in brutal/angry fashion. My distaste during this film grew exponentially. It really went over the edge when she became enraged because she thought he was going to leave her. The physical abuse she inflicts on him is hard not to empathetically feel…even as a female. Then there is the act of female circumcision she performs on herself with a pair of scissors. Before the end of it all, we see a replay of the epilogue from the perspective of "she" who remembers watching her son crawl up on the table and fall to his death...and she said nothing. "He" does end up killing her in the end, but from everything I saw in the film it appeared she had it coming. From where I sat she was an unstable maniac who would kill or be killed.The only symbolic thread I could see (and it didn’t turn up until about the middle of the film) was reference to “The Three Beggars”, depicted in the film as a fox, a deer, and a crow. A phrase that “she” says, “when the three beggars arrive, someone must die,” was heralded by the appearance of the three beggars. I felt there must be some deep meaning in the story unfolding that concerns the ‘beggars’, but it wasn’t computing clearly enough for me.
“Anti-Christ” is dark, brutal, and couldn’t get out of its own way long enough for me to try to understand what the whole point of the film is. Is there a point? I kept thinking there had to be…but it was hidden in a hard to watch and tangled storyline.
I took some time and stepped away from this review. During that break I did some of the surfing I veered away from before. I received confirmation about my thought on it being a piece that is open to individual interpretation…there were a number of them to be found. Some views are based on allegorical links to the book of Genesis, the Garden of Eden, and the guilt of woman-kind. Nature did play a role in the film, so there were some pagan based interpretations. Even Von Trier, who penned the script, doesn’t know where the story came from. He wrote it during a time of deep depression, and says it saved him by making him write ten pages every day. In an interview he said:
- "Truthfully, I can only say I was driven to make the film, that these images came to me and I did not question them. My only defence is: 'Forgive me, for I know not what I do.'" This precipitates a bout of giggling. "I am really the wrong person to ask what the film means or why it is as it is," he says finally, "It is a bit like asking the chicken about the chicken soup.”
So, after writing everything I wrote above, after reading other reviewers opinions, after reading an interview with Von Trier…can I now see the forest for the trees? Is a clearer focus and plot line emerging in my mind? Am I able to take more from the film and flesh out a clearer understanding of what the film means?
I can still say that I found it hard to follow. It was disturbing to watch. It was complicated and felt gratuitous at times. If I can’t see a plot, or a point, then maybe there isn’t one to be had.
|(Charlotte Gainsbourg; Willem Dafoe)|
Why did Dafoe do it? He clearly saw something I don’t. I would be curious to know what thoughts were going through his head by the time he reached “The End” on the final page of the script. I’m assuming that he saw something, as I have never considered him a “dim bulb”.
Would I recommend this film? To anyone? Good question. My immediate response is ‘no’, but then I think…maybe? It’s just one of those films where the viewer’s reaction is linked directly to their state of mind at the time. It’s going to have a different effect on each person that watches it. Maybe someone else will find something relatable in it (as scary as that seems to me), and it will touch them in a way that it didn’t touch me. It left me with a bad taste from the get-go, and proceeded to get darker, stranger, and more brutal.
As far as a recommendation of ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ for the movie “Anti-Christ”, I am going to quote a friend and say, “I’m Switzerland”. Interpret that as you will.