How does one begin to describe a film like “Antichrist,” aptly described in the press notes as director Lars von Trier’s latest provocation? It is a repulsive, perplexing piece of art. It is also brutally effective.
This is not a film for the squeamish. It is, by design, a disquieting experience, one filled with images of extreme violence, often perpetrated without any discernible reason. The question is not so much whether you’ll enjoy the film, but whether you have the stomach to tolerate it.
Von Trier’s story begins in the apartment of an unnamed couple, known only as He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who copulate furiously as their infant son crawls to an open window and plummets to his death. It is an arresting sequence, beautifully shot in stark monochrome, and a cheerless portent of misery to come.
The healing process is rocky, to say the least. He is a psychologist, determined to drag his wife back from the brink of madness and restore order in the face of calamity. She is a destructive force of nature — hysterical and increasingly deranged, spurred by some primordial instinct to sabotage his best efforts.
If anything about “Antichrist” seems obvious, it is von Trier’s desire to shock, and his belief that women, driven by forces beyond their control, are agents of chaos.
That might come as little surprise to those familiar with his past works, among them “Breaking the Waves” (1996) and “Dogville” (2003), in which the Danish auteur subjected his female leads to indignities large and small. Yet in those films, von Trier seemed at least sympathetic to his doomed protagonists. Not so here.
There is a lot of calculated ugliness “Antichrist,” but also scenes of such naked despair that it would be impossible not to be moved by them. Whether that’s incentive enough to sit through this film depends largely on your threshold for pain.
Two and a half stars
Starring Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Written and directed by Lars von Trier
Running time 1 hour 49 minutes