Criterion // 2009 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 5th, 2010
It's the end of the world as we know it, and no one feels fine.
Lars von Trier. He's a Danish director whose made a bunch of movies unseen by me (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville). After sitting through Antichrist, that will continue to be my future with this director. Critics have been split over von Trier's latest film, the harrowing, graphically violent and sexually confrontational Antichrist, now on DVD and Blu-ray care of the usually awesome Criterion Collection.
A couple identified only as He (Willen DaFoe, Spider-Man) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg, 21 Grams) find themselves in the midst of loss and grief, when their little boy is tragically killed in a freak accident while they make love in the next room. Consumed by grief, the couple tries to cope at home (he is a counselor), but retreat to a cabin in the woods that holds special meaning for their family. It's here that all hell breaks loose, as nature turns darkly sinister and begins tormenting the couple both physically and psychologically.
Antichrist is an unpleasant moviegoing experience. Not stick-your-hand-in-a-blender-while-listening-to-ABBA bad, but more like having-an-ugly-dog-with-bad-breath-lick-the-inside-of-your-mouth-on-accident bad. I'm sure this was Lars von Trier's intent. At least, I hope it was. You don't make a movie featuring a wandering deer with half a dead fetus drooping from its birth canal with the expectations it will brighten someone's day. This is a movie you put on during a rainy afternoon, or when the rapture has taken everyone you loved and left only trolls and goblins behind.
Oh, I suspect Antichrist is supposed to be a deeply moving experience, a rumination on loss and grief told to extremes. If so, it didn't work, at least for me. There are moments when it feels so weighty and pompous that it comes close to being crushed by its own self importance. This is one of those movies that throws in weird imagery of some off the wall fantasy element (a tree flowing with human hands, a talking fox) so it can feel really avant garde. "Hey!" I'm sure von Trier thought, "I'll have the main character clip off her female happy spot with some scissors in extreme close up to really drive home the point that this is art!" Yup, it's that kind of movie. The kind of movie that features slow moving black and white imagery over operatic singers. You can feel the angst pour off the screen like the tears of a man caught between the love of a European sailboat and the passion of woman with the head of an otter (which I realize makes about as much sense as this movie). Things couldn't have gotten any more high-falutin had the director stapled Yoko Ono to the screen and let Jackson Pollack paint her with octopus ink.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed a movie called The Human Centipede which ceremoniously dealt with three sad people being sewn together buttocks to mouth by a crazy German doctor. The idea of that film -- while horrible and unnerving -- was really more graphic than its actual execution. In Antichrist, the idea is far more banal -- parents grieving -- than the horrific final experiences these characters face. At least The Human Centipede understood the material really only worked by going over the top. Antichrist doesn't seem to share this same filmic world view and spends much of its time wallowing in artistic angst while being covered in blood and pain.
Antichrist feels so depressing you can't help but want to turn away halfway through. I don't have a lot of these moments, but the movie lost me fairly quickly and I never recovered interest. I muddled my way through its run time but found I was disillusioned by what I saw. The film starts out dealing with a couple who are going through the deepest grief of their life. Then it suddenly takes a right turn into the obtusely bizarre and disturbing to the point where it becomes almost antagonistic towards the viewer.
While the film itself was not my cup of tea, I have to admit the actors -- Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem DeFoe -- do finely tuned yeoman's work as She and He. Gainsbourg won a Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival and sufficiently portrays a woman in torment, although by the end she goes from a woman in torment to someone teetering on precipice of bat$#it crazy. DaFoe, while good, plays pretty much the same cold, distant character he's become known for in dozens of other films.
On a side note, I often wonder what draws an actor to this kind of material. At one point Gainsbourg walks outside buck naked and begins -- very graphically, mind you -- masturbating under a tree (clearly she is one with nature, if by 'nature' we mean 'really sexy trees'). Then she and DaFoe's character have sex while dozens of arms flow around them at the base of a tree they're near. All things considered the film so closely bumps up to pornography that it could pickpocket the genre without being noticed.
But I digress. Now, you may be asking, where did the film really lose me? What was the precise moment I decided Antichrist wasn't for me? When DaFoe and Gainsbourg angrily made love and in the middle of their session she jumps off of his body, swiftly mashes his testicles with a block of wood, then manually -- and quite graphically -- pleasures him until he ejaculates blood. Does this sound like something you have zero interest in seeing? Join the club.
There are those out there who I'm sure will derive a much different experience from Antichrist, although I'm not sure I want to spend a lot of time in their presence. I feel like I should have more to say about the movie than I do, but to what end? It's unpleasant, depressing, and didn't make me think about anything besides hitting the 'off' button. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for this kind of cinematic experience. I did, after all, watch it the day after Halloween when I'd already had my fill of horror movies. Then again, if I ever am in the mood for this kind of film, it will only be after I've had my eyes pecked out by crows and everyone I love has been eaten by ravenous black bears. In which case, I'm sure Lars von Trier will add that footage to his newest film, Antichrist 2: Nature Eats Your Genitals.
The video transfer for Antichrist is presented in 2.35:1 MPEG-4 with a 1080p transfer. Whatever my thoughts are of the movie, there is no denying that Criterion has given fans a strong transfer. Much of the film is set in the dark or in darkness which means the black levels need to be solidly rendered, which they are. There aren't a lot of color choices here, but what is available is bright and evenly defined. DNR or edge enhancement is almost non-existent. Overall this is a great image courtesy of one of the best in the business.
A single audio mix is included on this disc, a English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. While the mix is good, I wouldn't consider it to be earth shaking or revelatory. There are enough moments here that utilize the surround speakers, though this is mostly a front heavy track that gets the job done but little else.
Since this is a Criterion Collection release, viewers shouldn't be surprised at the amount of extra features included with this film. The supplements include three interviews (with director von Trier and actors Gainsbourg and DeFoe), a commentary track with professor Murray Smith from the University of Kent (in the UK) and director Lars von Trier, "The Making of Antichrist" (which includes behind-the-scenes test film, some featurettes on the visual style, sound, music, makeup effects, three beggars and the evil of women and combined run over an hour long), footage from the Canes 2009 premiere that focus on the reaction to the film by the critics and the press, three trailers for the film and a 30 page booklet housed inside the Blu-ray case.
Really, Criterion? Antichrist? This is a movie you consider an 'important classic and cotemporary film?' Yeesh...I'm apparently the wrong person to review this movie. I found it dreary, slow and violent in all the wrong ways. I respect my genitalia and don't find it amusing or entertaining to watch other people's penises or vaginas getting smashed or chopped off unless it's in an Eli Roth movie.
Antichrist is found guilty of making me feel like I just ate a bowl of
spoiled monkey brains.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated