By Noah Redfield, Staff Writer
If you look up the word "provocative" in the Dictionary, you will find a picture of Lars von Trier, His latest film, "Antichrist," was the cause célèbre at this year's Cannes Film Festival, generating jeers, laughs, applause and even the odd fainting. It's already the most controversial film of the year. So what's all the hullabaloo actually about?
The film begins with a nameless married couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) sharing a particularly passionate moment. As they become increasingly well acquainted, their infant son becomes well acquainted with an open window and falls to his death. He (Dafoe) recovers fairly quickly while she (Gainsbourg) is practically paralyzed by grief, so as a therapist, he decides to take her to a cabin in the woods called Eden so he can rehabilitate her. During their turbulent stay, she comes to believe that all womankind is evil and what follows is a series of rather unpleasant moments that you can read about in other reviews.
Von Trier is nothing if not an arch prankster. He is known for the infuriating mind games he puts his actors through in order to push them to breaking point, and his films have a similar effect on the public. Hanging over his work at all times is the sense of somebody who relishes in pushing buttons for the sake of it, and the quality of his films rely on whether or not they are engaging and entertaining in spite of his disingenuous nature. Helpfully, "Antichrist" is possibly his best work to date.
It arguably exists in the horror genre thanks to its unsettling atmosphere created by a dissonant soundtrack and haunting visuals as shot by the brilliant Anthony Dod Mantle ("Slumdog Millionaire"), but "Antichrist" is a film about ideas and its more extreme moments don't exist for the pleasure of gore hounds. They are excruciating set pieces that serve to hold up its bigger themes about grief, the nature of evil and misogyny throughout the ages. Hollywood horror should take note of "Antichrist."
Dafoe lends his mesmerizing and often underrated presence to its fullest potential here as the quietly controlling therapist. Gainsbourg, on the other hand, is like a mental patient who has broken out of her straightjacket and is thrashing herself against a padded cell for two hours…but in a good way. While von Trier may lack sincerity, his actors here make up for it in spades.
In the end, your view of "Antichrist" will depend on how seriously you want to take it. Those who allow themselves to be outraged and offended by von Trier's films are giving him exactly the kind of reaction he wants. "Antichrist" is a satirical and allegorical work that isn't meant to be taken literally. "Antichrist" is also a film for adults that refuses to compromise itself and treats its audience with intelligence. I cannot recommend the picture enough. See it and argue with your friends about it. It may not be the most enjoyable film out at the moment, but hey, who said art had to be enjoyable?