Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lars von Trier & His Fantastic Talking Fox

I could have spent Saturday afternoon shopping in downtown Chicago, or watching the Michigan State game at a local tavern, but no, I decided to stop into The Music Box and witness Charlotte Gainsbourg frolic in the forest with a demonic fox before inflicting graphic genital mutilation on her husband (the ever-so-creepy Willem Dafoe) and herself. So basically, I’m glad I saw Antichrist alone, because I was at least aware of what I was getting myself into.

Lars von Trier seems bound to leave his misanthropic stamp on every genre. Dancer in the Dark is the most harrowing musical you’ll ever see, Boss of it All is his attempt at comedy, and it seems that his next project will see the great Dane take on science fiction. Antichrist, of course, is horror, and in the sorriest decade that genre has ever seen, it’s damn near one of the best. The chilling cinematography leaves no room for sunshine. The muted colors and slow motion shots render us in the perpetual haze that follows unspeakable tragedy – in this case the death of a child – and the handheld camera is perfectly suited to the instability of Gainsbourg’s character. And more on her fierce performance; it’s easily the best to come out of a horror film since Shelly Duvall played a similarly abused woman in The Shining.

Except Gainsbourg is not sympathetic. She’s as crazy as her husband is arrogant, and the mutual destruction that they bring upon each other seems deserved. And that begins to get at why I didn’t quite love the film, even if I greatly appreciated it. The third chapter is titled Despair, a feeling I walked away from Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark feeling in spades (Dogville had it too, but there the despair turned quickly to perverse satisfaction). But though the He and She of Antichrist undeniably feel this weight upon them, the feeling never reached through the screen and seized me. That is because unlike von Trier’s afore mentioned films, there’s no empathy to go around here. Both husband and wife are terrible people, and as I watched them slowly, if brutally, destroy each other, I could only think how right it all seemed. Yet my hatred could have been stronger, it didn’t come close to the contempt I felt for the residents of Dogville, and so somewhere in all this, the film lost a bit of the impact I was expecting it to have. I realize it’s not fair to expect the same emotional punches, only delivered with distinct flair, from every von Trier film, but I can’t help but thinking that much of my reaction here came from the graphic nature of the images. I’ve toyed with comparisons to the Saw films, but it’s impossibly better than those. The direction is impeccable, even if it is second tier von Trier, and the performances he manages to elicit from Gainsbourg and Dafoe are startling. And there’s much more to it than shock and gore, though that’s no doubt what you’ll walk away remembering (that, and the final shot).

But you know, although I liked it well enough, I can’t honestly give it my endorsement. I imagine I’m among the few who wouldn’t fall on one extreme or another in regards to Antichrist. If you already wanted to see it, then you probably should. But if it didn’t look like your cup of tea in the first place, then let me assure you that it definitely is not. Funny enough, what might justify the existence of the entire movie is the dedication tacked on after the last image fades to black. After two of the bleakest hours I’ve had in some time, I needed a good laugh on my way out the door.

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