While I had wanted to see this movie for over a year, it was very dificult to find. It is unrated. It did not play widely in theaters. But it was the most talked about film at Cannes in 2009. It is actually not out on DVD until November 2010, from the Criterion collection. Recently I signed up for Netflix again and watched it instantly. I found it last night and became ridiculously excited.
Why does it take so long to come out on DVD? Probably because it's such a difficult film. It is definitely in the top 5 "darkest" films I have ever seen, if not #1 itself. Many may know the basic plot but I will recount: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe played a married couple. In the "prologue" they are having sex (which is a bit graphic) when their toddler son crawls out of his crib to play with some toys on his window ledge. This prologue is filmed in black & white and set to a beautiful score by Handel I believe. In short it is the best part of the movie. It is filmed in super-slow-motion, and the end of the scene is quite painful.
From here, the film switches to color and regular speed and contains dialogue. It is perhaps worth noting that the dialogue is quiet, and I was watching it on my laptop, which does not have the most powerful speakers, so I missed a bit. Charlotte collapses after the funeral of their baby boy and goes into the hospital. Willem is a therapist and seeks to cure his wife of her pain.
There are three chapters: Grief, Pain, and Despair. Charlotte is having a really hard time getting over the death of her baby, of course she feels responsible, she even knew that sometimes he would try to crawl out of his crib in the past. Willem decides to take her to their cabin in the woods for more alternative forms of therapy, like having her imagine lying in the grass and having it consume her.
"Grief" becomes a bit scary at times, and Antichrist is in the horror genre, I would say. It is not as scary as The Exorcist but it is very scary, for example, when a wolf talks to Willem at the end of "Pain." That is what is weird about it. "Grief" has a few scary moments, but then during "Pain," Charlotte even becomes happy and excited and claims that she is cured and there is a brief moment of bliss. But then the wolf talks to Willem at the end in a scary voice and "Despair" (Gynocide) begins.
"Gynocide" is the title of the study that Charlotte has been undertaking, about crimes committed against women in the 16th century. There are lots of weird illustrations and there is a constellation with Grief, Pain, and Despair appearing as a fox, a bird, and a deer. These animals show up in the movie having various bloody tumors or what appear to be severed appendages.
In "Despair," Charlotte drills a hole through Willem's leg, cuts off her labia with a scissors, and runs into the woods and masturbates. I have to say that I give enormous respect to both Gainsbourg and Dafoe for their performances in this film. No other actors of their station would take such risks.
I won't give away what happens at the end, but it is relatively predictable. It is a reasonable ending and I don't think most people will be horrified by it after everything that came before. However, there is still a super creepy ending, where there are like hundreds of women in white silhouette climbing through the woods as a closing shot. And then there is an "epilogue" which has the same score as the "prologue" and the same black & white and super-slow-motion, but it is much more sad because the film is over and there is nothing more to be done.
I don't think this film is meaningless, but I do think some of it may contain crackpot psychology. Gainsbourg's revelation, before going totally nuts, that women are subject to nature, is the major epiphany of the film, only to be derided by Dafoe a second later. Many say that Lars von Trier makes misogynistic films. This film may be misogynistic but I could not help but feel affection for Gainsbourg's character, up to a certain point at least.
This is the type of movie that should be shown in dive bars and indie rock clubs and put on mute. It's the type of movie that should be shown at screwed-up parties. I waited a long time to see it and I was so happy to finally have the chance last night. It's not one of the best movies I've ever seen at all, but it is an event. I actually liked The Girlfriend Experience better because it was more light-hearted.
But this is a horror film, and it's a very good horror film. It's not as good as The Shining but it's definitely similar. Even when you see the cabin in early shots, you know it's straight out of 80's slasher pics. But this isn't a "dumb horror film" (which they usually always are). Like, okay, I like both Hostel movies, but this is much more intellectual. It's intellectual and personal and psychological and horrific. I am sure few couples are going to have to go through what Gainsbourg and Dafoe do, and I am sure even if they did go through it, they wouldn't go to such extremes. That von Trier is able to make it believable and hallucinatory at the same time shows how talented he is. Now, I would like him to do something ridiculously mainstream. But I don't think that will happen anytime soon.