Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” was reviled at Cannes this year, although the jury gave Charlotte Gainsbourg an award for living through it. I didn’t see it, but reaction was so hostile that one of my colleagues, Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail in London, gave the director quite a dressing down at the press conference. Now I know why.
Last night, the U.S. publicist handling screenings did everything she could to keep me out of the first U.S. showing. She was rude, obnoxious, and disrespectful. She pretended I hadn’t even RSVP’d, and asked me to prove I had on my Blackberry. She was so over-the-top unprofessional that I thought, “What is she up to here?” Once I took my seat, though, I got it. Maybe she was trying to tell me something, like “Run!”
“Antichrist” is a horror, and a horror film. And a horrible film. It’s laughably sensational, pornographic for effect, and ridiculous. The sexual violence is so contrived and disgusting that the people who did make it into the Broadway screening room laughed out loud when the real fun began.
Only later did it seem all the more worse considering the screening room is in the Brill Building, the site where Ellie Greenwich wrote so many of her famous hit songs. I heard about her untimely passing at age 68 from a heart attack just as “Antichrist” ended. And it was an insulting irony.
Let me tell you what happens: a couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) are in the throes of passion. Von Trier shows us Dafoe’s whole package, including gigantic testicles, and the penetration. Meanwhile, their toddler escapes from his crib, climbs to a window ledge, and falls splat onto the snowy pavement. Right there, you know it’s not a comedy, and not in Oscar contention.
What proceeds is a meditation on grief and depression. This must be very Danish. There’s also a lot of nudity and some more fornication before the couple (they are the only characters) go to a rustic cabin in the isolated woods. You know this means trouble, since only bad things happen in the woods.
There’s more sex, nudity and depression. A wolf speaks to the camera and says, “Chaos reigns.” And so it does. Dafoe suddenly announces he wants to kill Charlotte. (He may have exhausted positions with her.) She doesn’t like that. So she mutilates and tortures him. There is a lot of blood, especially from his smashed, yet aroused penis. It’s not good. In fact, it’s nauseating.
When Dafoe’s character retreats to attend his (massive) wounds, Charlotte ” who’s presumably lost her mind, or read the script ‘ mutilates herself sexually with a pair of scissors. Some people left the screening room at this point. A couple of people said, “What’s left?”
Well, plenty. More torture, lots of shots of Charlotte with no pants on, a further attempt at coupling. Willem tortures a crow in a cave while his leg bleeds because Charlotte’s skewered him. A fawn seems to be giving birth. The fox and the crow make friends with the fawn. Willem discovers that Charlotte used to put their dead son’s shoes on reversed left and right. Willem is still able to walk even though he’s bleeding from at least a couple of areas. Charlotte, who looks a lot like the young Patti Smith, bashes him with a shovel. If only she’d taken a little Zoloft.
“Antichrist” should be shocking, but it’s not. It’s just numbing. There’s also way too much of Willem Dafoe’s buttocks contracting during sex. I don’t know what I will say to him the next time I see him at a Yankee game.
As for Lars: sir, we’re too smart for this now. Piling on atrocities isn’t shocking anymore. It just makes you look like an amateur with nothing much to say. Who is the audience for this? Maybe IFC Films knows; they picked it up for distribution. My bet: very few of a paying audience will make it to the end.
However, I did like the talking fox. You can’t beat a good talking animal, even if you’re bleeding from every orifice. I hope there are more on the DVD.
“Antichrist,” by the way, is playing at both the Toronto and New York Film Festivals. They should be having a helluva good party in both cities.