By Luke Rosica || Contributing Writer
Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist is a very divisive film. Critics have called it both a masterpiece and torture porn. In its screening at the Cannes Film Festival, reportedly, four people fainted while watching it and the film has even been banned in France. Although the film is classified under the genre of horror, I would not feel comfortable calling it that. It is indeed horrifying, but not in the typical way you might think. It certainly doesn’t follow any of the conventions of horror and it doesn’t try to scare you– instead, it tries to scar.
The film is beautiful. The cinematography highlights nature, life, and harshly juxtaposes it against images of striking violence and despair. The film is sublime and it feels almost otherworldly. Although it may be the most grueling film I have ever seen, it is also one of the most complex and interesting. I can’t say I enjoyed myself while watching this film because it is not a pleasant experience, but I can say that I loved Antichrist.
There are many things I liked about Antichrist, but I’m going to focus on one thing: how the film depicts grief. I believe that there is a strong argument to be made that the film is about grief and how people deal with it, among other things. Antichrist can be taken as hyperbole, an extreme example of what we feel during times of loss. The film begins with the main characters, simply named He and She, having sex while their unattended child crawls out a window to his death. From this point forward, the film is about He and She dealing with the grief of their dead child.
Unlike conventional films about this subject matter, where we might see the main characters bicker about who’s fault it is, go to therapy, or get divorced, Lars Von Trier expresses the inner emotions of the characters through the visuals and their actions. One such scene comes at the end of Chapter One. He, after losing sight of She, comes upon a deer with a stillborn baby hanging out of it. The doe makes eye contact with He before galloping away with her dead baby’s lifeless body dangling from her vagina. It is a very dark image to think about and even more so when you see it.
A very simple reading of that scene would be that the doe could represent the couple and how they still feel the burden of their dead child or, more specifically, this is how She feels because it is a female doe. Many other scenes deal with similar ideas and do so in a similar way.
This is where the extremely graphic scenes in the film come from, such as the infamous scenes of genital mutilation. The graphic moments are meant to symbolize what the characters blame for or feel about their child’s death. Instead of having the characters explain their feelings, we are shown their feelings and it is not a pretty sight. The gruesome imagery and chaotic nature of the whole film can be seen as a representation of the feelings that people have when they’re experiencing extreme loss.
This is just one interpretation of the film. I believe there are many other layers and analyses that can come from watching the film. For instance, there are also themes of how men and women feel towards each other, religion, and sexuality. The film can seem opaque at times, with imagery that would be hard for anyone to understand, but given enough thought, the film explores many questions about life.
I would not recommend this film to everyone, in fact, I wouldn’t recommend it to most people. Watching this film is tough and you may come out the other side despising it. But, for those of you interested in a film that isn’t meant to entertain, but to provoke and question, you should check out Antichrist.
Sophomore Luke Rosica is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.