Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe
Review by Diego
Costa, from Paris
Calling Lars von
Trier's Antichrist (2009) "torture porn" is like calling Citizen
Kane (1941) a "televisual biopic," or Chris Marker's La Jetée
(1962) "some slideshow." But that's how the film has been described
by a pack of critics whose infantile logic seems to equate any nudity and violence
to the most easily available ready-made label. Especially when the nudity here,
as explicit as it may be, never eroticizes the female body and the violence
maims the supposed bearer of the phallus (at least whenever it isn't self-inflicted).
In one of the most brilliant opening sequences in film history, achieved with
the super slow-motion effect of a Phantom HD camera, a woman (the great Charlotte
Gainsbourg) and her husband (Willem Dafoe) are having sex while their baby is
watching. After literally witnessing "the primary scene" he takes
his teddy bear to the windowsill and loses his balance. Gainsbourg's orgasm
is then perfectly timed with the baby's downfall onto the snowy pavement. It's
as if he couldn't bear the sight, and she couldn't bear its interruption.
aesthetics isn't as experimental again until its very end. Bracketed by these
brilliant, green-lit pieces of hyper-slow-motion arias, it alternates between
the poetic subtlety of Andrei Tarkovsky (to whom it is dedicated) and the heavy
symbolism of low culture fare such as The Blair Witch Project (1999).
The story is simple,
perhaps even a little hackneyed. A couple whose baby falls onto his death while
they make wild love; a woman trying to finish her thesis; a husband with a god
complex. But Antichrist's genius is precisely in turning the banal predictability
of its characters and the positions they occupy completely inside out, pitting
Freud's "talking cure" against American behaviorist fantasies while
it is at it.
becomes pathologically depressed over the son's death her therapist husband
takes her on as a patient. He engages her in a series of role-playing exercises
aimed at curing her "fear." They then go through some nonsensical
pen-and-paper business of trying to find the "feared object," which
involves drawing a triangle whose top may indicate that she may "fear her
It is hard to tell
if von Trier is consciously out to ridicule America's obsession toward the market-savvy
scam that is instant-gratification therapy. But that is precisely what he does
as the patient becomes the monster and the analyst its "objet a."
The therapy sessions
soon turn into a cat-and-mouse game as soon as the usual suspects reverse their
roles. As woman starts to see arrogance in man's wisdom and vanity in his "froideur,"
she is the one to wield the ax, the saw and the pair of scissors. Man is reduced
to a limping mound of flesh desperately seeking a rat hole to hide inside. And
when woman finds him -- impotent and wounded, barely capable of choking a bird
to death -- she doesn't know whether to kill him or rape him first. She ultimately
castrates herself, as if to reveal the tautologically obvious: it was woman
who had the phallus all along.