Monday, December 26, 2011

Some thoughts on Lars Von Trier's Antichrist

There are few things more frustrating to me than having to state the obvious. Antichrist is a film that I feel has been largely misunderstood more so than any other film of the past decade. I could offer countless "essays" written about it that don't even focus on what it is really about for more than a sentence or two. I have a lot to say about this movie, but I'll try to condense/summarize it as best as possible.

Antichrist is about mental illness and 'neuroticism' (which is a state caused by our society's anal-retentive avoidance of the natural order: death, decay, chaos, 'creatureliness', meaninglessness, and ephemera to name a few) It is about how these states come to arise, how they are contagious, and how they can spiral out of control very easily. It is an extreme chronicle of such a downward spiral and how even the people society deifies - the so-called infallible ones - (in this case, a psychologist) are susceptible. It is the most uncomfortable and confrontational film I've ever seen.

If you browse over the (masturbatory) article I posted above, you'll see that the author is fixated on guilt and grief, but those are the catalysts, the precursors, not the central focus. Aside from maybe a tangential sentence or two, the article does not mention my above observations. The tragic and horrifying loss of her child, and the grief which followed, are what caused her to become mentally ill. My guess is she would have had some dormant issues beforehand which this triggered, given the topic of her thesis she was writing. The isolation and her phobia of the woods exacerbated these things.

Many feel that Antichrist is a very cryptic and ambiguous movie, but I strongly disagree. It's themes are fairly evident, unlike, say Lynch's Inland Empire. One of the reasons I claim to 'get' Antichrist is because it deals with a lot of issues I've experienced personally and have dedicated several years to researching. They are not very popular, and hard to understand from a distance. You really have to have to dig around in the psychiatric text of the last half century because the ideas are considered misanthropic/threatening by the majority of the psychiatric community who would rather sugar coat and speak in euphemisms. The gist is that civilization is one complex and ridiculous defense mechanism against finitude, meaninglessness, chaos, death, etc. etc. and when our own internal defense mechanisms fail, so do our hero systems, thus creating all mental illness (anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and so on). In essence our self-consciousness would drive us insane if it were not for culture, distractions, and the meaning we assign to things. When we are removed from these things we are more vulnerable to the threats the we try to avoid and from there it really becomes a slippery slope (which is the focus of Antichrist). Lars Von Trier who is one of, if not perhaps the most neurotic, phobic, manic depressed filmmakers alive has been doing what all artists strive to do, and that is to express and in turn, purge internal conflict, suffering, etc. So while many critics tend to argue that his intentions are vague, I feel that a neurotic, phobic, manic depressed filmmaker most likely made a neurotic, depressing film about phobias. But hey, it could also be a total coincidence and I may be the one projecting here.

I was having a discussion with a stubborn friend who claimed that guilt was a far more prevalent theme than insanity and even that the insanity in Antichrist is a fictional one (whatever that means). Dafoe sees a dead fox in the woods and it says fucking "chaos reigns" to him. That is unquestionably a hallucination which is an acute symptom of schizophrenia. That is purely objective and is not up for discussion. It could not be more blatant if he looked directly into the camera and proclaimed "My character is losing his shit." If Dafoe's character was of a sound mind, it would just be a dead animal, and hardly a big deal. This is just one example. I don't even need to explain how Gainsbourg's character is nuts. It is obviously a film about insanity, or more appropriately 'mental illness.' However, it is such a brilliantly accurate and intimate portrayal of mental illness, because it's written and directed by a man who has experienced it first hand, allowing him to capture the tiny details often overlooked by most cliche-ridden films on the subject (A Beautiful Mind, for example)

Then of course there is the sex guilt attributed to an overly moral and repressed society, the 'Adam and Eve' metaphor, the assumed misogyny, and She's paper are all symbolic on their own, but unrelated (well, yes, but not directly) and add even more depth to an already complex study. It also ridicules the notion that the psychologist is any different from the rest of us, which I feel is an important point that hasn't been properly made in a film. If I were to get into all of these things, I'd be merely restating what many people have already said before me, so I'll spare us both. I'll conclude by saying what I've told many people before: Antichrist is a work of genius. If you have watched this movie, and didn't like it for whatever reason, watch it again with what I've said in mind. I guarantee you will appreciate it more.

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