Thursday, March 11, 2010

As For Film: Antichrist

Lars von Trier's Antichrist hasn't, and wouldn't, be reviewed in any Christian publication for many reasons (most of them unfounded). The title tips most editors off that it's a 'no-touchy' in Christian media. Sometimes I miss the days when I wouldn't even let myself watch a movie like Antichrist due to my Christian convictions and moral presuppositions. But impending heresy implores I experience von Trier's latest piece of art-horror with an open mind and willing stomach.

A few things are obvious. Antichrist is graphically shocking, cinematically beautiful and uncompromisingly original. But upon first viewing, there was a lot that didn't line up. And my problem was that I didn't really want to sit through the film a second time. I didn't appreciate what von Trier subjected me to, nor did I want to think into any greater detail about what the director might have been saying with this bizarre film.

Heading in, I expected this film to make some biting criticism of Christianity. But when it was over, I couldn't remember where, or if, that criticism occurred. Why was this film called "Antichrist" if Christianity had so little to do with it? So, I threw out that first assumption, and checked out a few reviews. Upon a quick scroll through Metacritic, I found the 360 spectrum of interpretations and opinions. What I simply felt was a pretty movie with a weak plot was garnering the broadest range of criticisms I'd ever seen. So I gathered a few ideas, watched it again, and things became a little bit clearer.

While I'm not the most well-versed in matters of psychology, I did minor in theology, and Antichrist just doesn't have much to say on that level. There's the allusion of Eden (the cabin), and "Satan's church" (nature), but these seem like little more than tools used by any run-of-the-mill horror film as a means of resonating quick, relatable symbolism upon mass audiences. I don't think von Trier was saying much about religion at all in Antichrist (Nietzsche had already done that well enough in his book. And yes, I do think there is a sort of connection between the book and film. Read on, dear reader.).

What I think the film's title refers to is not a religious concept, but a psychological one. I feel comfortable making this claim because of the context in which von Trier worked on the film. Apparently von Trier was deeply depressed before he made Antichrist. And I believe that this is key to understanding what the movie is about.

Depression is treated by therapists, cognitive therapists like the film's protagonist. These therapists are educated and trained to treat the psychological health of the human being. In modern times, psychologists often act as saviors for troubled people. But von Trier doesn't allow therapy to win out in the film. The therapist wields his psychological knowledge like a weapon for the majority of the movie, until abandoning it for physical violence. And it's only then that he rids himself of his problem. His problem? The antagonist: the opposite sex.

The therapist's wife continually tries to tell him what her real problems are: "Anxiety? This is physical." She doesn't care about her psychological problems, she hurts physically. She tries to fight against his psychological help. If She is the "Antichrist" in this film, it is because she is the antagonist against the salvation promised by modern psychology. She even says, "Freud is dead." Not, "God is dead."

If this film helped von Trier deal with his depression as he claimed it did, I assume that the caricature of the therapist was a reaction against his own shrink. Mr. von Trier didn't respect his therapist because he wasn't healed by him. The help his therapist promised never came, so von Trier turned to art instead. An abstract yet physical manifestation of images and feelings. This was what von Trier needed, not psycho-babble.

Just as in The Antichrist when Nietzsche claims that Christianity is a religion of pity that leads to depression (a very bold claim to make in the 19th century), von Trier is claiming that psychology works by the same sort of bullshit (a rather bold claim to make today). It's the sole thing he must come back to as his means of attaining peace of mind, yet it never seems to completely relieve. "Antichrist" means something like "anti-healer" in this film. It's not really anything offensive towards Christ at all. The real sin of the film is that it's just a bit pretentious and dull.

All this, and graphic, disturbing sex. Absolutely, this film was gratuitous. There was no reason to show a close-up of a clitoris being cut off with scissors. That and a lot of other unnecessary garbage, too. There was some useless, inexcusable stuff in Antichrist, along with a messy plot. And for that I just can't call this a very good movie.

But one interesting aspect of the sex/violence in this movie is its correlation with nature. Watch any nature documentary and you'll see how violence and sex are always in close proximity within the animal kingdom. Animals fight each other, and the winners get to mate with a female. And the sex itself can often be a violent act. Animals have sex without love, simply out of natural necessity and primal urgency.

When the therapist tells his wife, "maybe I don't love you" simply as a way to appease her during sex, he might be telling the truth. When she screams (irrationally and randomly) at him, "you're leaving me!" she's onto something. In nature, which is the setting for Antichrist, males come in and mate with the female. Afterward, they usually leave. And eventually, they mate with a different female.

As nasty as this is, once the therapist abandons his rational, "human" efforts and resorts to his physical nature to kill his wife, he then frees himself to seek out another female. He leaves his wife at the end of the film, and a thousand faceless women walk around him. I could be way off on this, but I saw this as the male's opportunity to mate with any number of females. The face doesn't matter, because he's no longer a rational man but an animal in nature. Love and murder don't exist in nature, only sex and violence.

Of course, I wouldn't call that chaos, but whatever talking fox.


Amora Freire said...

I definitely see a lot of symbolism and psychological meaning in the movie. Good to interpret from a Jungian psychology perspective. I also see some criticism of modern psychology, maybe. But only one branch of psychology. Or not, if the scenes are actually illustrations of things played in his psyche.

Amora Freire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amora Freire said...

I definitely see a lot of symbolism and psychological meaning in the movie. Good to interpret from a Jungian psychology perspective. I also see some criticism of modern psychology, maybe. But only one branch of psychology. Or not, if the scenes are actually illustrations of things played in his psyche.