So now Lars von Trier wants to be David Lynch. Or maybe he's just mocking those critics who still stand by Lynch's cinematic mindfucks. Or is he really trying to emulate Eli Roth. After all, Antichrist plays like the mutant hybrid of Hostel and Scenes From a Marriage.
The celebrated Dutch director once made arresting movies (Dancer in the Dark, Breaking the Waves) that ignored critics and challenged audiences. Today he makes movies to spite them both.
Sure, most of his melodramas feature the same narrative backbone: An unstable, vulnerable woman slowly goes mad while enacting some sort of retribution upon a sadistic male — most often her lover. But his early efforts showed some compassion and tragic lyricism. Though his scorn for religious faith is always evident, there was empathy for why his characters sought its embrace.
Lately, however, the former Dogme 95 director has been drowning in his own venomous views of humanity and, in particular, Americans. But despite his obvious desire to shock and outrage audiences with Antichrist (didn't he get over that in his 20s?), he ends up creating a ponderous and pretentious exercise in psycho-sexual allegory that's punctuated by graphic genital mutilation. Want to see a penis worked until it spurts blood? Antichrist is your film! If you think Willem Dafoe got it bad in Last Temptation of Christ (which probably had no small part in getting him cast here), wait until you see his wife screw a grindstone into his leg.
Divided into four chapters bookended with an epilogue and prologue, von Trier's plodding parable follows He (Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a couple grieving their young son's death. Hoping to prevent his wife's impending mental breakdown, psychiatrist He decides to take She to their woodland cabin — called Eden — and treat her himself. Grief, guilt, the chaos of nature, and marital discord escalate into gruesome violence and disturbing hallucinatory visions.
Such haunting dreams and brief explorations into how grief and lust collide hint at what Antichrist might've been if von Trier actually gave a damn. Instead, the director's out to craft a horror-fueled lark. How do we take his Calvin Klein ad-inspired opening, where Dafoe and Gainsbourg have graphic sex in glossy black and white while their child artfully falls out the apartment window to the snowy pavement below? As if that weren't enough, von Trier dismisses the metaphorical value of his own imagery by having Gainsbourg proclaim: "Dreams are of no interest in modern psychology. Freud is dead, right?"
Are She and He the anti-Adam and -Eve? That seems to be von Trier's threadbare thesis. But who really cares? It's all art-house hokum. And inevitably, some fans will fall for it. Along with examples of how rational thinking is subverted by nature and how women will, in the end, match a history of misogyny with evil of their own, Antichrist makes the provocative claim that all male-female relationships ultimately descend into savage anger, revenge and survival of the most ruthless.
It's not enough to simply provoke your audience. You should have some notion as to why you're provoking them. Otherwise you merely end up inciting momentary revulsion followed by lasting indifference.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].