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Lars Von Trier Fills Audiences With Disgust and Awe With “Antichrist”

What may be one of the more important pieces of information to know about “Antichrist” is that if you are going to the movies to watch John Cusack save the world and his family in slow motion, you probably have wandered into the wrong theater. Actually, let me take that back. There is no way you could simply wander into the wrong theater, because “Antichrist” has been exiled to one evening screening a day at Pleasant Street Theater, giving the typical audience member little opportunity to view it. It is an unfortunate situation, but up until late last week, it seemed as if the Five Colleges community wasn’t going to have access to the film at all. So in the long run, we really should count our blessings.

Whatever the case, “Antichrist” is a film to see if only an opinion can be developed about it. The end result of Lars Von Trier’s attempt to work through a period of intense depression, it is a film shrouded in gloom and anger. It tells the tale of a couple described only as He and She (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe) who, in a gorgeously photographed dialogue-less prologue, experience the loss of their son. Gainsbourg’s intense feelings of loss and fits of anxiety are coolly received by therapist husband Dafoe. As a therapeutic device, He takes She to their cabin in the woods, as that is where She describes much of where her fear sprouts from. It is here that the majority of the film takes place and where we witness the breakdown of their marriage and common humanity.

Much has been written about the controversial genitalia-related sequences, so there is no need to discuss them at length here. I will only say this: They are disgusting, horrifying and exhilarating. Although other reviewers have found it necessary to spoil these scenes for readers, this one will keep them under wraps. Suffice it to say that they, like the rest of the film, function perfectly as visceral experiences. The reaction you will have to some sequences in “Antichrist” will come from a place deep inside, one which draws from the very same fears depicted in the film.

Gainsbourg and Dafoe deserve multiple awards for the portrayals given here, but it is not likely that they will receive them. Both actors give what are most likely the bravest performances of either of their acting careers, but in the process, they are degraded before our eyes in ways previously unheard of. This kind of bravery is unfortunately not likely to win them any awards, but recognition should still be given.

Lars Von Trier developed a reputation for misanthropic ideas in his films, but much like the acting highs provided by the two leads, “Antichrist” takes this aspect to new levels of intensity. It is difficult to walk out of this film with anything but a feeling of dread in one’s stomach. It is almost a shame, because in terms of its filmmaking, “Antichrist” is a work to truly be contended with. Every frame of this film feels pored over, providing equal amounts of beauty and horror at every moment.

To be honest, this film isn’t going to work for every audience. It draws from a fear deep inside of us all, and not everybody is going to be happy to see such intense horrors depicted onscreen. However, Lars Von Trier deserves to be commended for his bravado. It took courage to make and release this film to American theaters, and it is unfortunate that it is presently being snuck under the radar by distributors. One can only hope that this kind of spiritual cinema – for this is, at heart, a spiritual film – continues to be released.

Mark Schiffer can be reached at mschiffe@student.umass.edu.

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