Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Antichrist: It's for sick, sick people

A little background before I launch into this review/bootlicking. It was almost a year ago, and I was reaching the brink of exhaustion. I was working two jobs, both stressful, and I'd had some personal trauma dropped on me suddenly that I'm not going to talk about here. One day I arrived at job number two and found that the Noro Virus was wreaking havoc on the two youngest boys of that family. All day I played nursemaid to them both while simultaneously praying I wouldn't get it, and knowing full well I would. And I did.

I've had multiple bouts of this illness, as someone with a compromised immune system I have to expect this kind of thing, but the severity of it hit me much worse this time. I couldn't eat, I couldn't drink more than a few sips without ferocious vomiting, I was in too much pain to sleep and I couldn't concentrate enough to lose myself in the internet. It was pretty awful. It got worse when my mother called me to rant about how I told facebook I was sick but didn't call her. I was in a black mood when I came across Antichrist, and figuring it couldn't make me feel any worse, I suggested to my housemate we watch it.

So the story opens on a man and a woman (never given a name) having an enthusiastic shag. This is the last time we'll see them happy. Everything's shot in slow-motion black and white and this is how we're forced to watch the couple's little boy make his way to an open window while his parents are too consumed with lovemaking to notice. So we can already tell the director wants us to feel bad by giving us every parent's (and nanny's) worst nightmare: somehow attending to your own desires has caused the otherwise avoidable death of a small child. Well played, Von Trier.

It gets worse from there. The father of the child is visibly grief-stricken, sobbing away during the funeral. The mother, however, is a walking corpse. Her grief is a parasite eating away at her and this is very convincingly and unnattractively portrayed by Charlotte Gainsbourg. She has several distressing and rage-filled breakdowns. Because he's a therapist and a complete idiot, the man decides to take her away to a remote cabin in the woods. This is when things get really nasty.

You ever hear the phrase 'Nature is cruel'? In Antichrist, it's downright evil. What would normally be a delightful encounter with a deer in the undergrowth turns pretty sinister when it's clear that the doe has the half-decomposed corpse of her fawn hanging off of her. When the man sticks his hand out a window for just a moment every tick in the forest jumps on to have a munch on his arm. A fall of acorns from a nearby tree hit with such force that they almost seem launched at the cabin. In the scene the film is probably best known for, a fox disembowells itself and groans something about chaos reigning at the (most likely hallucinating) man. Meanwhile, the woman is getting crazier as time goes on and they're still at it like rabbits, but very angry rabbits. I can't say any more without some serious spoilers, but it gets worse with every minute that passes until it's clear the woman is convinced the forest is evil, so is she, and the man deserves to die for some reason.

Watching this film, you can tell Lars von Trier was hitting that part of his depression that was full of hate for everyone and everything including copious amounts of self-loathing. When you compare it to his other works, which are also very bleak, it's in a completely different category. Compare it to Breaking the Waves (more on that later) which at least had a shred of hope to leave us on after the emotional walloping we bore for two and a half hours, Antichrist just keeps beating you. It's the Mohammed Ali of depressing media. It's nice to see that he seems to be in a better place with his new film Melancholia, but i haven't seen it yet so I can't comment on it too much yet.

After four days of non-stop vomiting, a ton of painkillers, no sleep and no end in sight, Antichrist made me feel better. I made a full recovery the day after I watched this film, which was nothing short of a miracle. I heartily recommend you keep this handy for the next time you're violently ill.

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