It is a fair assessment that Lars von Trier courts controversy, to the extent that some viewers now expect to be shocked. Personally, for me, there is a level of indifference when approaching von Trier’s work, he is a sporadic captivator, and not always in a positive sense. His films demand engagement and provoke reactionary feelings which is said of any piece of subversive art, and that is to be celebrated. However, I never expected a film would provoke such a reaction as to make me turn it off. Antichrist did and yes, during *that* scene. I’m no prude but seeing such self-mutilation up close prompted me to cease watching. Months later, after the sheer joy of Melancholia, I decided to give it another chance. To be clear, von Trier does not need to justify why he makes the sensationalist, lurid fare he does but this, more so than his other texts, adds provocation to his chauvinism and disdain for the female sex, in addition to his fascination with Catholic ideology and iconography.
A couple ‘He’ (Willem Dafoe) and ‘She’ (Charlotte Gainsbourg) engage in energetic sex while their toddler son, supposed to be asleep, escapes his crib and displaying a final act of dare-devilry climbs upon a chair and tumbles out of an open window to his death. Devastated by the loss and rapidly losing faith in medicinal therapy, ‘He’, a psychiatrist, decides to treat his grieving wife himself using exposure therapy techniques. They retreat to their cabin in the woods, know as ‘Eden’ and both attempt to work their way through their grief, pain and despair; here depicted as three talisman in the opening prologue and then as an unholy trinity of animals, in the form of a roe deer, fox and raven.
Had this film been solely about the emotional turmoil of losing a child then perhaps it would have elicited heightened feelings of empathy and identification thereby making the experience a more enjoyable one. Instead, von Trier muddies the waters with allusions to Adam and Eve, Satan and concentrated evil personified in the figure of ‘woman’. Here, woman is aligned with nature…’She’ is a body of impulse, instinct and desire and is, apparently, beyond rational control. ‘He’ attempts to control her and when that fails, she must be punished – first mutilated at her own hand; then irrevocably at his.
The cinematography deviates from linear and transition shots, lens effects and from black and white stock to colour seemingly to create the idea of chaos while in reality it adds to the over-indulgence of the whole ‘horror’ text. There serves little purpose to ‘She’s Gynocide thesis plot-point other than to further elicit the Nietzchean ideal upon which the film is seemingly based. The director claims that this is his most personal film, however, I would suggest that the man has willfully set out to create a pretentious and rebarbative piece of art with the sole and deliberate intention of exasperating people to the point of irritability. Job done.