Surviving the Antichrist

I managed  to catch Lars von Trier’s Antichrist on its last night at the Landmark Midtown in Atlanta. Long before the dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky appeared in the film’s closing credits, I spotted any number of visual echoes of Tarkovsky’s work. Lesson: if you want your film to look “important,” imitate Tarkovsky. Just mix together some desaturated color, black and white, slow motion, rain or other objects falling from nowhere, shots of wind blowing curtains, Baroque music on the soundtrack, and you’ve got Art. 

Actually,  Antichrist was neither as bad as the hostile crowd in Cannes seemed to think, nor was it quite as good as Roger Ebert aruges in his review. The performances by Willem Dafoe and especially Charlotte Gainsbourg are remarkable. Gainsbourg more than earned the Best Actress award at Cannes; if I ever watch the film again, it will be because of her. Their reactions to each other and to the tragedy that engulfs them give the film the emotional credibility it needs to work in the face of extreme, at times ludicriously horrific situations. In a couple places the dialogue falls flat, but I think this is due mainly to Trier working in a second language.

Yes, much of the imagery was beautiful, dark and rich. But in some of the darker scenes the photography had that tell-tale, flat video look. Anthony Dod Mantle is a gifted cinematographer, and the smaller camera probably helped preserve the intimacy that the actors needed to pull off their performances, but high definition video still hasn’t caught up yet with good 35mm stock.

Trier’s view of relationships and the gender divide owes much to Strindberg, but I was also surprised to see a deliberate Medieval sensibility running through the film. Yes, the film is misogynistic, but you have to give him credit for taking the whole thing seriously enough to hire a “Misogyny” consultant. That’s one film credit you don’t see very often.


About James Steffen

I'm currently the Film Studies and Media Librarian at Emory University in Atlanta. Although my primary passion and expertise is in film, I also love literature, music and other arts.
This entry was posted in Film, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Surviving the Antichrist

  1. sitting pugs says:

    Just mix together some desaturated color, black and white, slow motion, rain or other objects falling from nowhere, shots of wind blowing curtains, Baroque music on the soundtrack, and you’ve got Art.

    Sounds like the opening sequence of Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, which I enjoyed very much.

    Have you read the Film Comment piece on the film? Written by Larry Gross. You can find it here.

    • James Steffen says:

      Hey, Stina! The Fall does have gorgeous photography. I’m sure that Tarsem Singh is familiar with Tarkovsky. There are also some deliberate homages to Paradjanov in his music videos “Losing My Religion” and “Sweet Lullaby.”

      Thanks for the link to the Larry Gross review, which I hadn’t read. I think he has the film sized up just about right.

  2. Louise says:

    A Misogyny consultant? That’s hilarious! I guess it’s a good sign for women that the entire culture isn’t just like that all the time.

    • James Steffen says:

      I didn’t write down the name, but I’m pretty sure the “misogyny consultant” was female. I think she provided historical research about the mistreatment of women in the 16th-17th centuries. Without giving too much away of the plot, the wife is a graduate student writing a thesis about the topic, and we see lots of antique woodcuts of women being tortured, presumably as witches. Lars von Trier also employed a “therapy consultant” since the husband was a professional psychotherapist.

  3. Vigen Galstyan says:

    It’s funny… I keep thinking about this film constantly and the only reason is precisely because of what you term as ‘visual cliches’. I recognise them as such, but they are absolutely unshakable, pervasive and solid. In fact, I probably would argue that IT IS art – although I know that most would disagree (it is so unfashionable to like a beautifully crafted image nowadays). Oh, by the way, the only part of the film I’ve seen so far is the trailer 🙂

    • James Steffen says:

      I admit that I was being a little snide about the Tarkovsky dedication. The film is beautifully photographed for the most part, though I still think it suffers in places from being shot on HD rather than 35mm. Near the very end there are some truly striking compositions reminiscent of Bosch. When is it set to open in Australia? Or are you in Armenia right now?

  4. James Steffen says:

    Steve–sorry, your comment slipped through the cracks earlier–I was inundated with spam around that time. Did you ever see the entire film? I haven’t watched it again yet, though if I have the opportunity to see it on Blu-ray I may do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *