Antichrist: Criterion Collection
November 15, 2010
For years, Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier has been something of a cinematic wild card, a provocateur whose films deeply divide audiences and critics alike. At times, he even seems to cultivate an enfant terrible reputation by making bold and controversial statements in interviews. With Antichrist (2009), he not only made the film as a way of dealing with a crippling bout of depression but also inadvertently outdoing the current crop of torture porn horror filmmakers with truly disturbing and disgusting imagery that predictably polarized audiences when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. This begs the question, is Antichrist’s extreme imagery done only for shock value or does Von Trier actually have something to say?
In a beautifully shot prologue – depicted in black and white and in slow motion – a husband (Dafoe) and wife (Gainsbourg) make love while their unsupervised little boy jumps out his bedroom window and dies. Von Trier juxtaposes the ecstasy of lovemaking with the horror of a little child dying. Understandably devastated by the loss of their child, the husband and wife attempt to cope with their feelings. She becomes so depressed that she has to be hospitalized. He’s a therapist and decides to treat her himself. In an act of hubris, he thinks that he can cure her, tossing aside the commonly held belief that a therapist should not treat his own family members.
The first third of Antichrist is a brilliantly acted drama as Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s characters bear their souls and talk about how they feel in regards to their child’s death. Both actors strip everything down and do an excellent job of portraying two people trying to deal with an unimaginable tragedy – he, the clinical caregiver and she, the grief-ridden patient. Gainsbourg, especially, is riveting as the traumatized mother wracked with paralyzing anxiety and guilt. When she tells him that the place she fears the most is the woods, he decides to take her to a remote cabin in a heavily forested area in an attempt to help her confront her fears. They continue her therapy but the woods is presented as a dark, foreboding place that affects her in very disturbing ways.
Von Trier has taken the notion of a woman emotionally unraveling from a film like A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and enveloped it in the supernatural horror genre as our two protagonists return to nature only to succumb to its most primal aspects – what she perceives as an evil environment where chaos reigns. He thinks he has her all figured out and foolishly assumes he can cure her but as she demonstrates, in the film’s shocking climax, he has no idea what she is feeling or experiencing. She punishes him in a way that evokes the shocking climax of Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999). With Antichrist, Von Trier has created a horror film for adults that is thankfully devoid of the silly affectations that mar predictable slasher films like the Saw series.
The first disc includes an audio commentary by director Lars von Trier and film scholar Murray Smith. They start things off by discussing the stylized black and white prologue and how it was achieved. Von Trier is not big on analysis, often struggling to articulate what the film means and instead talks about the technical filmmaking aspects. He touches briefly upon the differing acting styles of Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Von Trier also talks about how Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s films, specifically, Solaris (1972), influenced Antichrist. He is not the most eloquent commentator but plugs away with the help of Smith who tries to keep things going by constantly asking questions.
Also included are three trailers.
The second disc includes “Cast and Director Interviews.” Lars von Trier talks about anxiety attacks that he’s had since he was six-years-old and how they informed Antichrist. Making the film was a form of therapy for the director. Charlotte Gainsbourg says that she was offered the role at the last minute, read the script, wanted to do it, and agreed to do the film. She knew of Von Trier’s work but had never met him. She gives her impressions of the man and his working methods. Willem Dafoe talks about how he got involved in the film, which was early on. He was aware of how tough an experience it was for Von Trier to make and supported him at every opportunity. Ever the eloquent speaker, Dafoe is a fascinating interview subject.
“The Making of Antichrist” examines various aspects of the production, including the visual effects, the sound and production design, and makeup effects. There are all kinds of behind-the-scenes footage that sheds fascinating light on Von Trier’s working methods. Various cast and crew members are interviewed and talk about their area of expertise.
Finally, there is “Cannes 2009,” which takes a look at the film’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and how it was received there. We see Von Trier, Dafoe and Gainsbourg doing all kinds of press junkets as they promote the film. There is even some footage of the infamous press conference where Von Trier responded to a tabloid journalist with a wonderfully cheeky reply. Both Dafoe and Gainsbourg are interviewed separately and recount some experiences making the film.