Dense, shocking, and thought-provoking, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is a film which calls for careful analysis. This web-exclusive exchange between Film Quarterly editor Rob White and philosopher Nina Power is meant as a first attempt at the in-depth debate that this major film deserves.
SPOILER WARNING: Please be aware that the piece assumes familiarity with Antichrist and does contain major plot spoilers. For ease of reference, a synopsis is provided at the end.
Rob White: Antichrist is already making headlines because of the explicitness of its sexual violence (especially two acts of genital mutilation). There are comparisons to be made with the current vogue for “torture porn” horror, but a better initial reference point is a group of 1970s films: The Night Porter, In the Realm of the Senses, and Salò, all of which relate sexual violence to mid-century fascism. Antichrist’s concerns are contemporary—gender, ecology, science—and its accomplishment, easy to recognize so long as one is not too distracted by the gore, is to explore these philosophical themes cinematically.
Antichrist is also a carefully plotted thriller. Recalling Don’t Look Now, it begins with a child’s death while mother and father (simply credited as “she” and “he,” played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe) have sex. The next scene is the funeral, the couple filmed, in a shot reminiscent of the trapped hero’s view from the coffin in Dreyer’s Vampyr, through the hearse window. It is as if the dead child, Nic, were taking a last reproachful look at his parents. The true extent of their negligence will be revealed toward the end, when a flashback discloses that she was watching as the toddler climbed onto the window ledge from which the fatal fall then occurred.But Antichrist has not stinted on clues to her wrongdoing: the ragged chick devoured by its bird-of-prey parent, a self-taken Polaroid showing Nic playing behind his glassy-eyed mother who looms menacingly in the foreground, a flashback in which Nic wails as she forces the wrong shoes on him. The man is not exempt from blame. After he confronts her about the coroner’s report of Nic’s injured feet, he seems only interested in what the revelation of child abuse tells him about her psychology (via a ridiculous pyramid graph of her fears). This is a calamitous, solipsistic couple. He is a therapist without an MD. Some kind of drop-out? Struck-off? And one wonders if her rattle bag of a dissertation—which she cannot finish—on “Gynocide” has ever had any institutional ratification. These two are failures, lost in their own mirror world of goading games and compulsive sex.
Nina Power: The blanked-out faces of not only the other funeral-goers, but also of the massed women at the end, indicate that this is a story whose explicit focus is indeed the unhappy bourgeois couple and its miseries. After the abrupt death of Nic, the only other substantial characters are the animals, with perhaps the tree and cabin playing minor supporting roles. The Polaroid of an unhappy-looking she with Nic relegated to the background, and her neglect of Nic in the woodshed even as she follows what she thinks are his plaintive cries, demonstrate that this is a couple so profoundly turned inward that not even their child (or his death) can alter the course of their headlong mutual destruction.
“What are you afraid of?” His question to her, near the beginning of his “treatment” of her, jars. Surely the thing we would expect a young mother to be “most afraid of” has already just happened—the death of her child. Is his therapy so cutting-edge that he simply skips over the small matter of his child’s death (a fact which he seems surprisingly casual about), or is this further evidence of his poor therapeutic technique? His calming exercises seem to worsen his patient’s fears, and he seems unable to accept that what she is truly afraid of lacks an object. This is the Heideggerian definition of Angst—fear is always fear of something, an object or an outcome; Angst is the generalized feeling of not being at home in the world. Antichrist is a film about this deeper kind of anxiety, the kind that makes everything feel wrong: even when the stars align, their pattern resolves nothing. The film’s “Three Beggars,” Pain, Grief, and Despair in their various iterations, are a mythos suited to the malformed gnostic vision of von Trier’s Eden: a world where everything is a kind of abomination. If she is ultimately somehow attuned to the evil of this abortion of a universe, then perhaps it might do better to call her a kind of witch, skip over the flat and uninteresting charges of misogyny, and investigate the nature of her unholy powers.
Rob White: She first speaks about her anxiety when she is woozy with drugs at the hospital, having collapsed at the funeral. Grief has, it seems, overcome her, while he studiously maintains a medic’s detachment; she is the patient, but after he instigates—over her doctor’s objection—the trip to Eden, the question of whose mind is most disturbed becomes increasingly hard to answer. He fails to stay professionally calm and before the talking breaks down he starts to lash out at her, castigating her for statements about evil he has purposefully elicited. Antichrist is withering in its depiction of this cranky therapist, but the critique goes deeper than the one character, much as her angsty distress spreads to infect the environment. When he frantically protests at her claim that nature is “Satan’s church,” his rational objection is unpersuasive: “the evil you talk about is an obsession; obsessions never materialize, it’s scientific fact.” In this hellish world, delusion and reality seem redundant ideas: certainly the injured animals he encounters are fairy-tale perversions for which science has no category.
Antichrist plays narrative and visual tricks which never give us a settled reality—no viable distinction can be made between a normal outside world of hearses and hospitals, and a crazy, abominable one of forest fiends. Is the best explanation of this monstrous universe that the whole Eden trip is a fantasy (whether his or hers) which begins after the down-the-rabbit-hole transition when, instructed by him to visualize the cabin, she imagines herself lying on the grass outside and turning green, melting into the landscape? But this is just a version of his “obsession” theory and overlooks stylistic features of Antichrist’s cinematography which suggest eerier scenarios, in which he is a puppet not the disengaged scientist who can define reality. We first see, for example, the scarred, bleached-out wasteland outside the cabin during her visualization; she limps in super-slow-motion past the blasted tree stump. In the film’s penultimate sequence, we see that landscape again, filmed in just the same way. He strangles her, incinerates her, and drags himself away. But he limps through the landscape of her imagination. If we are to infer any meaning from this visual symmetry, it could be that she has a witchlike power over him.
Nina Power: The role of witchcraft in Antichrist should, in part, be understood in a context more complicated than that of Christianity. In some respects, Antichrist is a misleading title, implying a simple reversal of the Christian opposition between good and evil. It is unfortunate for us that our capacity for imagining nature is overdetermined by its depiction in the Bible: Adam gets to name the animals, Noah gets to pick them up in pairs, making sure to have more of the “good” ones than the creeping (and creepy) ones. But the disturbing hybrids of Antichrist resist easy description, reminding us more of Shakespeare’s dark litany of disturbed animals (Macbeth’s horses, “turn’d wild in nature,” start to eat each other). The use of contemporary techniques for getting the fox to speak, and the computer-game-like dream sequences which she conjures up and he stumbles through are the formal equivalent of the animal wrongnesses that Antichrist depicts. This is not a straightforwardly evil universe, but it is a world out of joint, a world which one god or other started but gave up on, perhaps having given language and insight to all the wrong animals. Chaos reigns.
If nature is itself unnatural, incomplete, why bother trying to give it a meaning? The “dissertation” she works on, nothing more than a teenage scrapbook of hacked-out woodcuts and increasingly incomprehensible scrawls, leads her only back to herself, the “Me” at the top of the pyramid of fear, a narcissism so pronounced that even her own child can be accused of neglecting her (“Nic wasn’t there for me either”). Crippling his feet and attaching a lathe to her partner’s leg seem to be the only way she can keep the men around her from leaving. Not unlike Kathy Bates’s character in Misery, she literally arrests and creates the narrative which binds men to her. But she appears to misjudge the extent of her powers: it is she who is in control of the landscape, who can “just turn green,” who understands what the acorns are up to. Perhaps it is she who better performs his awful therapy-speak phrase “what the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve,” which is quite possibly why, in the end, he has to burn her.
Rob White: Oedipus is named for his “hurt foot” and perhaps her urge to hobble man and boy is some extreme protest against the trademark Freudian “complex”; as if she had decided—“enough of word games and mind games, let me make it for real.” One way of thinking about the film’s subversion of rational, psychological, scientific meaning is to take its violence rather seriously, disregarding charges of arty self-indulgence. Antichrist’s world has undoubtedly gone wrong. It is a world of deformity, whose occupants are increasingly traumatized. In, that is, the root sense of the word—wounded—as much as its twentieth-century psychological variant. Physical injury as against its mental simulation; flesh not mind. The penetration shot right at the beginning is relevant: thoughtless, instinctual fucking, body entering body, as opposed to the emotional paraphernalia of Handel’s mournful aria or the baggage of this family unit—“daddy-mommy-me” (to use the formulation of a book which is relevant in more than just its title, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus).
There is definitely an affinity with the Shakespearian macabre, but the more direct reference is to Shakespeare’s contemporary, Robert Herrick, whose spiteful poem, “Upon Some Women,” she quotes: “False in legs, and false in thighs; / False in breast, teeth, hair, and eyes.” Murderously minded these lines may very well be, yet they speak most plainly of the body in bits, and Antichrist insistently visualizes corporeal fragmentation and dismemberment, especially in the bookend sequences of close-ups of parts of her body, the subliminal image of her screaming face imprinted on the landscape outside the train window, the arms among the tree roots. Antichrist progressively reasserts the primacy of the body, albeit an oozing and hurt body. The three “primal scenes” in which he encounters the animals (deer, fox, bird) underline this: in each case he hears a rustle that prompts a studious look of curiosity which soon turns to horror when the creature is revealed. He wants nature to reward his curiosity, but he gets instead a bloody, messy, obscene revelation, “red in tooth and claw,” and perhaps the only reward is that, with a little help from her, he gets to have just such a body himself.
Nina Power: But what kind of body are we talking about? In the post-psychoanalytic age, Freud might be dead, as she suggests at one point, and yet our language is nevertheless shot through with his words, and no body is fully “natural.” Nic, a mere toddler, performs a spectacular and speedy fusion of the primal scene and Oedipal misery in his early leap from the window, his ghostly figure in the snow making a mockery of any life force that protects the young. Grief may be a “natural, healthy emotion” as he suggests, but the really complicated affect here is anxiety: the symmetrical scenes of the back of her head, the way her pulse turns from a physiological reaction to grief to a vital force altogether more sinister in nature—if she is “false” in “teeth, hair, and eyes” (among other things) it is because beneath this conventionally attractive façade something much more primal lives, like the Dantesque hands and bodies lying in sexualized sympathy with the roots of trees.
There is darkness under cover of beauty, there is murk in the midst of hygiene: the roots of the plant dirtying the water in the tidy hospital, the bloody crow in the quiet of the foxhole. If she can change semen into blood (albeit with the help of a handy block of wood), does this mean that transubstantiation is, pace Catholicism, far more common than we think? After all, sexual organs with the power to bleed are hardly “unnatural” for half of humanity, or at least we’re not supposed to think it odd.
He may get the identifiable animals, but she gets everything that swarms, those things that make the ecology feel unsafe and excessive: the acorns, the burning ground, the ants crawling on the runt chick at the end of her “therapeutic” exercise. Bitten by a host of bugs when he dangles his hand out of the window, his final vision is of an endless stream of women marching ever upward.
Rob White: The ending of Antichrist is wholly strange, perhaps in fact the oddest thing in an unusual film. Just before the epilogue begins, he limps out of Eden, no Eve by his side, no flaming sword to light the way. For a film so skeptical about modern ways of thinking, the image is appropriately medieval, redolent of Old Master eschatology (Bruegel, The Triumph of Death, Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights), with perhaps a dash of Wagnerian Götterdämmerung too (our heroine has, after all, been burnt on a pyre). And then back to black-and-white, and a sudden bucolic tranquility as he forages for berries, smiles at the animal ghosts, and—with the blank look of curiosity again—sees the smudge-faced women parading toward some invisible meeting place. The ending feels like a belated retraction of what has gone before. The mood is harmonious, even heavenly; this seems like a place of healing rather than hostility. Is this a repudiation of “red in tooth and claw”? It is hard to say, but certainly it is an alternative world, one more hospitable to him, whereas the forest world had been a place where she was at home.
The epilogue exudes a culty calm. After several viewings, I thought of the drug-induced pastoral hallucinations in the first season of the TV vampire show, True Blood, but my first association was with the bizarre interplanetary salvation at the end of the Nicolas Cage movie, Knowing. Although the symbolism in much of the film belongs to “Old Europe,” the setting is in fact Washington State. (David Lynch’s Twin Peaks is also set in that area, and there are other parallels between Antichrist and Lynch’s films—the use of droning sound design, for example, and a shared sense of exactly “darkness under cover of beauty … murk in the midst of hygiene,” as with the severed ear in Blue Velvet.) This is a New World. We seem to have moved from a European imaginary to an American one—to the culture of Robert Bly, hippies, scientology, Mormonism, the Rapture.
Nina Power: The most interesting aspects of the film are not the predictably headline-provoking elements, neither the sex nor the violence. What is perhaps most interesting in some ways is the absence of knowingness, and of recognizable place (though the film is “set” in Seattle, Washington and in their cabin, Eden, they take a train to get there, as Europeans would do, and the bulk of the film was shot in Germany). This is not an urban film, a sex film, a commentary on American foreign policy, or an arch nod to other genres, but it certainly attempts a certain kind of arthouse horror—part of the dismissive huffing and puffing about Antichrist is about the clunkiness of its themes and affects: depression, sexual difference, theology, and human nature. These are not themes well-suited to irony, and there is no post-Buffy wit and patter to temper the abyssal artlessness of the stilted dialogue and the grimness of the self-devoured yet self-replicating nature (“OK, Mr. Nature, what do you want?” / “To hurt you as much as possible”).
But Antichrist is a serious attempt to undermine the unthinking acceptance of modern rationality and the flat utility of technology. The toilet she both bashes her head against and throws her pills down has the seat up, as if, for all his caring liberal humanism, he knows in the end that it’s a man’s world. When he enters the cabin, he casually touches both the lathe and the toolbox, reassured that these are his playthings, not hers. Antichrist is ultimately a film about the other side of these routine assumptions, about the relation between man and nature, women and men, and what happens when these things are horribly, cosmically misaligned.
Rob White: Calling Antichrist “misogynist” is an opt-out from serious engagement, a critical short cut which reduces the film to the schematics of unconscious desire that von Trier so artfully dismantles in order to reach out to more visceral, counterscientific causalities. Maybe a better way of approaching the film’s gender politics is to observe that she is much the more interesting of the film’s characters. What a misfortune it would be to arrive in his consulting room! Whereas one could expect from her at least some crazy folkloric ruminations; she could be counted on not to be tiresome. It could be inferred from Antichrist that she is all the time playing along with his idiotic therapeutic games, as contemptuous of headshrinking as Humbert Humbert in Lolita (the novel). Thus the odd tonal quality of some of the things she says when they get to Eden, whether it be the flatness of the “Mr. Nature” dialogue or the earlier incongruous perkiness of her claim to have been cured. She will never get her Ph.D., but hers is surely the greater intelligence. In their Battle of the Sexes, he is outmatched in this respect at least.
Though brutalization and death often await von Trier’s female protagonists, there is a world of difference between, on the one hand, the heartbroken innocents in Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark and, on the other hand, the resourceful avenging women in Dogville and Antichrist. She is kin to Grace at the end of Dogville, who says “I want to make this world a little better” and then has gangster henchmen put the town to the sword. If the hegemonic social institutions (couple, family, medicine, psychoanalysis) really are as oppressive as the 1970s critique (Reich, radical feminism, queer theory, Anti-Oedipus) claims, then such a slash-and-burn response may even be justified—though there is no getting away from one fictional face of that critique in action: her supine vigilance as Nic climbs up to the window. There are smudged faces elsewhere, but this merciless gaze is unexpurgated.
Nina Power: Von Trier’s fascination with female violence goes back a long way, and his 1987 Medea asks the same question that Antichrist raises: is there anything more frightening than the idea that mothers may wish to commit infanticide? If you flip the film over and listen to what she says (“you shouldn’t have come here, you’re just so damn arrogant, but this may not last, ever thought of that?”), it becomes clear that for all her play-acting at his clumsy therapeutic games, the initial scene had been set in motion by her at least a year before: the teddy bear tied to the helium balloon tantalizing Nic to reach for it, the baby monitor on silent, the reversed shoes, the windows opening twice to let in the acorns and let out her son. Antichrist is a fascinated yet horrified disquisition on the ambiguity of witchcraft, a set of spells and strange incantations not unlike those practiced by the filmmaker himself.
In Malleus Maleficarum, the fifteenth-century treatise on witches, there is a description of the hailstorms alleged to have been caused by two women in Ratisbon, Germany. It is this supposed power to control the weather that she invokes at the base of the tree while finally getting her wish that he hit her: “the sisters from Ratisbon could start a hailstorm.” The couple-form has comes to dominate all relationships, particularly in arthouse films about bourgeois life, but there is also, or was, a sisterhood, and the fear of this female bond (with each other and with an unholy vision of nature) is invoked throughout Antichrist. If a certain kind of order is restored at the end, with the deer looking over Nic’s suicide and overseeing the provision of berries for his father, it is a washed-out image of the world, a version of the Christian mistake which imagines that animals belong to man and that nature will always provide. The swarming masked and gloved women at the end are not touched by this hierarchy of man and beast, however, and plough toward a darker, but perhaps less divided, new Garden of Eden.
Prologue. A couple, simply known as He (a therapist) and She (a researcher into the history of witchcraft), are having sex at home. Their toddler son, Nic, gets out of his cot, climbs to the windowsill, and falls to his death.
Chapter one: “Grief.” She collapses at the funeral and is hospitalized. After a month, he insists that she discharge herself. He wants to take over her treatment; his theory is that she must re-live her deepest fears. She says she associates fear with Eden, a cabin in the woods, where (with Nic) she spent the previous summer trying to finish her dissertation on “Gynocide.” They travel there by train and start hiking through the woods. She tires and while she sleeps, he sees a deer whose stillborn fawn is still partly contained in its womb.
Chapter two: “Pain (Chaos Reigns).” He directs her in therapeutic exercises, while they continue their dialogues, breaking off for sex. He finds Polaroids of her and Nic. The conversation grows more intense. “I understood that everything that used to be beautiful about Eden was perhaps hideous,” she says. “Now I could hear what I couldn’t hear before, the cry of all things that are going to die.” He opens the report of Nic’s autopsy. Out walking, he sees a wounded fox which speaks: “chaos reigns.”
Chapter three: “Despair (Gynocide).” He finds her disturbing research materials in the attic. Later he initiates a role-playing exchange: “I am nature, all the things you call nature.” The encounter takes a disturbing turn. “If human nature is evil,” she says, “then that goes for … the nature of all the sisters.” They have sex beneath a tree, human arms materializing among its roots. She finds the discarded autopsy report. He confronts her with its observation that Nic’s feet were deformed, pointing out that the Polaroids show the child wearing his shoes on the wrong feet. She knocks him unconscious, batters his genitals, masturbates him, and bolts a lathe wheel onto his leg. He manages to crawl into a foxhole under the cabin, where he finds an injured bird.
Chapter four: “The Three Beggars.” She is remorseful. They return to the outhouse where, in flashback, it is revealed that she was watching Nic as he climbed up to the window. Agitated and delirious, she mutilates her own genitals with scissors. Her scream alerts the deer, fox, and bird, which come to the cabin. Seeing him about to extract the wheel, she stabs him. He fights back, strangles her, and burns her corpse on a pyre.
Epilogue. He limps away from the cabin. Doll-like human bodies litter the landscape. Later he forages for berries and sees the ghosts of the animal trio. He watches a host of women, their faces smudged, climb up a wooded hillside.
NINA POWER is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Roehampton, U.K, and author of One Dimensional Woman (Zero Books, 2009).
ROB WHITE is editor of Film Quarterly and author of Freud’s Memory: Psychoanalysis, Mourning and the Foreign Body (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
CREDITS: Antichrist. Director, writer: Lars von Trier. Producer: Meta Louise Foldager. Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle. Editor: Anders Refn. © 2009 Zentropa Entertainments23 ApS, Zentropa International Köln GmbH, Slot Machine Sarl., Liberator Productions Sarl., Arte France Cinéma, Memfis Film International AB, Trollhättan Film AB, Lucky Red SRL. U.S. distributor: IFC Films.
STILLS CREDIT: Courtesy of Trust Nordisk ApS. An IFC Films Release.
great blog thank you
Thank you so much for this, very insightful and critical of an intricate film.
last week our class held a similar talk on this subject and you illustrate something we have not covered yet, thanks.
The comparison with David Lynch’s treatment of the landscape of the American Northwest is inviting. “Twin Peaks” mostly outsources its evil to the woods, like an early American text on witches: *The owls are not what they seem.* “Twin Peaks” veers off in many different directions, but while it contains irony it remains rooted in the horror genre’s need to display a literal, supernatural “invasion from without.”
“Antichrist” opens more radical possibilities in the genre that it haunts. Viewed as a sort of anti-“Blair Witch” on a number of levels, there’s more room in “Antichrist” for irony about the politics of horror and for pure cinema unloosed from literalism. If the source of the evil has no stable, literal location – with the interplay between Old and New Worlds, the entanglement of (in)human and (un)natural worlds, transference between historically gendered forms of brutality and viciousness, and the blurring of individual and collective nightmares, it’s even more difficult to contain. A BYOB – Bring Your Own Baggage or even bring your own millstone – reading of the North American woods is tempting.
I agree that the title is perplexing, but it seems important that the film isn’t called “Eden” or “Anti-Eden”…
J. M. Tyree
Thank you so much for this discussion. I was getting so tired of reading reviews that instantly dismiss this movie and von Trier as misogynistic. This discussion is spot on.
Who was shocked by this film? Where is the evidence? I think the “shocking” description is a critic’s rhetorical trick (it makes the film seem worthy of attention and sober analysis) when in reality (unlike the ’70s films mentioned above) the film came and went (did it even come?) with no disturbances. These critics NEED the film to be shocking, the want it to be shocking….but it wasn’t and did not shock. In this regard, they need to rethink their analysis and position it more honestly as an old-fashioned explication and elevation of an artwork they happened to admire, and NOT as a critical intervention that fully explains the ‘shock’ of something new.
The culminaton of this film is the sympathetic murder by Dafoe of the wife, who is depicted as supernaturally evil, rationalizing the deed as crisis solution for a threatened patriarchal establishment. Ingmar Bergman (Hour of the Wolf) maudite.
It is overwhelming to see Film Quarterly’s astute analysts indicate how an Antichrist critique is consistent with discussions of the Grotesque aesthetic perfected in classic Expressionist film. Von Trier’s Antichrist fulfills Wolfgang Kayser’s criteria for the ancient Grotesque method of subverting and devastating any integral ideological and ethical value system, even Judeo-Christianity, by invasive absolute alienation of the typical existing norm for mass popular comprehension. Thus, von Trier’s film art powerfully injects pre-Christian cosmic concepts, which prevailed during Babylonian patriarchal dehumanizing slave society that demonized women for subjugation, to transform, substitute and estrange familiar characteristic and civilized images in a reversion to a mentality of barbarism.
Lars Von Trier’s most grandiose grotesquerie (contra Rabelais) “Antichrist,” embodies his late attempted putsch at Cannes, so magniloquently demolished by Festival spokespeople, conferring his dank designation as Persona non grata. A vague simulacrum of Nietzsche’s own moribund “Antichrist.”
The magical fascination of film as art consists in its property of conceiving everlasting truth, transforming what is amorphous and transitory into an ideal grace. So the darkly obscure interior labyrinth of any Lynch movie, like his Eraserhead, guides the inspired and advancing viewer to an elucidating sense of glory. But Von Trier’s Antichrist conducts his audience by regression from enclosed and narcissistic euphoria to a tumultuous and cataclysmic outer darkness. This is certainly intimated in Ms.Power’s deft critique as observed by J.M. Tyree.
Von Trier’s Antichrist is a Solipsist’s oneiric cosmogony founded upon sempiternal dissolution of its noumenal paradigm,the ultimate sublation within Swedenborgian dereification. He consummates his diegetic mimesis: executing an epicene and orgiastic recorso of Nietzchean epigonic apotheosis.
If one of the most authoritative voices of British film ‘criticism’ was in the position – at the time of the film release – to say that all Von Trier’s films are “rubbish” and that his latest Antichrist is a mere “cine-prank” realized by a man of “giggling insincerity” willing to stir some “pointless controversy” then yes, chaos does reign for real! We understand that the normative and prescriptive tendency of film criticism is the only alternative to pandering admiration, but the fact that observations of such stupid mediocrity find space on ‘The Newspaper of the Year’ is a rather worrying coincidence…
Let us start by saying that the violent biodiversity of this film averts any accommodating univocal reading whilst simultaneously liberating numerous fields of inquiry, which are not necessarily pleasant to explore.
Those who detect misogyny are self-evidently limiting their perfunctory looks on the epidermal appearance of Von Trier’s film, or, even more impairing, refusing to explore the complex gaze of the Danish director on the feminine universe. As always in Von Trier we have the unreconciled dichotomy executioner versus victim hence, author versus spectator.
More than ever, the director’s irreverent empathy is dramatically siding with the female character, with Bess and Grace the process of victimization subtended a stubborn opposition towards the (cinematographic) world besieging their femininity, with Charlotte Gainsbourg sexuality is not intended as guilt anymore, it is guiltiness itself that is experienced as a castrating form of sexuality. Chaos reigns these days, sexual repression grows furious. If cinema for Von Trier has been a psychic flux of energies flowing in the firing channel of melodrama, with Antichrist he hijacks his poetics on the murky paths of horror where the victim transcends into headsman, salvation into guilt, good into evil. Only pain is left untouched. Everything (else) is inverted. The deer symbolizes fertility and is giving death from its sex; the fox embodies lucidity and instead announces chaos; the crow is the symbol of the regenerating power of death through decomposition but in the Antichrist refuses to die, even when buried…The therapist feels the chaos (through the fox), the witch halts it.
Willem Dafoe’s arrogation to lead his wife through the road of mental healing, his psychoanalytic academic exercises and mournful sexuality are the clear traits of a moral inquisitor whose adamancy ends up triggering the liberation of primordial pulses. If this is a film about the woman as antichrist then it configures itself as the protracted and provocative representation of a male vision of society. Why do people accuse Von Trier of being sexist and absolve our rotten society? The sweet and caring rationality that this obtuse and considerate husband opposes to the irrational fear(s) and carnal pain of his wife embodies the patriarchal will of purification that uses ‘love’, instead of fire, as a torture tool. Von Trier offers a cognitive map of pain where the equation woman/nature and evil (re)lies on the biological origin of suffering. Pain, is represented in its unbearable absoluteness by a mother watching her child dying. Unfathomable pain, unimaginable grief. The affliction comes from the maternal womb and the scission of a biological bond, under this logic pain is conceived as “natural”, that is why nature is Satan’s church.
In any Saw or Hostel the spectator witnesses countless mutilations but never invocate the scandal, why? Because that is cinema. Fiction. Von Trier is almost snuff: the soul is tested, there is no catharsis, the psychosis is explicated. And we refuse to watch, to believe, to face the squalor of our miserable lives. We zealously affirm that Von Trier likes to exaggerate and that there is no need to be so cruel and so, illusory, forth. The world, after all, is not that bad…
The same malign magnitude with which the wood roars its ancestral fellness to the outlandish bodies violating its gate, in one of the most profoundly evocative scenes of the film, shall echo in our deaf consciences and unhinge our blind bigotry.
I just saw this film on netflix. I was also reacted with the majority of critics…..typically misogynistic…woman as failed mother/evil whore..gets murdered….man redeemed as sun-filled saint on staff…..directors catholic after all…but i think that there is a more obvious thread….about couples who close off to the world and self-destruct…he takes her to a cabin to possess her completely….both of them have ignored their child to death…they are obsessed with each other….addicted to the emotional triggers between them….they have to struggle and fight until one of them breaks…i worked with abused women….when they leave abusers their lives are so empty….like ghosts..knowing they will be tortured they still obsessively return to their abuser….needing closure to the pain and the horror…until both die…murder/suicide…and so many of these abused wives are abusers of children…she is…and he is suffocatingly dominating but also abandoned her before their child die..she is mad at him so resents her single parenthood and abuses the child as revenge…but he doesnt notice…because he is neglectful himself…so self absorbed…he blames himself for her depression and is sure he can fix it…and save himself the shame of letting his child die….all the way through the film he lets her take the blame….she holds the shame and becomes insane…men lose their jobs and kill their families…shame…it drives us mad if we believe it.
The reason he is so logical is because he lets her channel all the feelings for both of them….their relationship is parasitical. He struggles through the whole story to avoid feeling….she breaks and then he breaks through to his real feeling….rage and hatred of the failure of his wife to be a good mother…..he could have left her there in the cabin….but he kills her because she killed his child….he hates her…and he feels redeemed….smiling like a martyr down upon the faceless women on the hill….because he is single again….everyone seems to have missed this point….women are faceless to him….they have no souls…..just bodies….he is fine with the murder because he believes he is justified…just like the church witch/nazi burnings…..and he feels great because he is free of the shame…its buried with her body…
(I find it shocking how no one mentioned that he was also a crappy father who ignored his child and let him die as well….everyone accuses the mother only….we are all so sexist)
The mutilation is obvious:women hate themselves…african american women bleach their skin….and often beat the child with the deepest colour…we internalize societies role for us….that is why we see millions of aging women with surgically altered cleavages and high heels…we are whores….or mothers….no other option….she hated her sexuality….so she cut it off…pedophiles do this as well….her child was dead….so there was no other role left to her…she was torn apart….instead of finding a place outside of him…..she insisted on death as the only escape…kill him and herself or he kills her..she didnt fight her strangulation. Again he dominated her. Kill or be killed….it is sort of boring that way…it would have been far more provocative if he just limped away with his nuts in his hands crying and saying…we are really screwed up and im going for help…
I just finished watching the antichrist,
it is most ridiculous movie I EVER saw. Yet I will give it 9/10 because it’s a masterpiece, ending is vague & irrational, it starts as two couple trying to heal their grief, gives stances in between as devil doing something, then it turns out that it isn’t so, but again in the end they give vague signs to indicate supernatural.
I concluded that it’s more of a stage drama, with heavily unjustified ending.
CLF – great comment. People who see the film as “misogynist” are people who already buy into the patriarchy so much that they see a representation of a powerful feminine force — a force of the body, of emotion, of anger — as abominable right out of the gate. In actuality, it’s the rationalism of the male that’s the antagonistic element, because not only is it just as cruel (obsessed with power, oppression, and torture), but it’s also invested with more artificial power than the feminine… as evidenced by the fact that She ultimately sabotages herself, rather than follow through with her radical, violent critique.
I’m afraid I find Film Quarterly’s discussion to be rather superficial, touching on lots of vaguely-related issues, but not investigating any of them with any real intensity. It takes too much for granted. Like, when She witnesses her son’s death, is this really a claim that she is negligent? Or is it simply showing that she is the one who witnessed the death, the radical event, and therefore that she is the only one of the two who can truly feel its emotional repercussions?
I did a short write-up as well, taking on the film as a thesis on gender difference… not comprehensive, but at least with some focus.
Anti-Christ is anti-man; opposed/against even the ultimate man (Christ). She realizes she hates man and the God who created man. Man enters woman during sex (invasion). God makes woman/en endure the pain of bringing new life into the world. God has let billions of people suffer throughout the centuries because “one” woman disobeyed God. (God of the old testament is a mean, egomaniacal, tyrant). She is justifiably anti-christ because Christ is the too little too late “meek-man” savior. She knows man is not meek. Man has mostly been invasive, selfish, controlling thoughout history. (and this is even “with” the “veneer” of civilized society).
Sometime during her research and time at the cabin with her son,she discovered and became angry/furious with “man” throughout history. From God condeming mankind for woman’s supposed disobedience (natural curiosity?) To the persecution of women by men down through the centuries. She eventually saw her own son as just another future man/controller/abuser. This leads to “torturing” him with the switched boots enough to permantly disfigure his feet. Later the muted baby-monitor, distracting her husband with sex, and knowingly watching her son fall to his death is part of her revenge. All the rest of the movie is just a working out in creative ways this “opposition to Christ” in the form of god made into man.
I (though a man) understand the hatred of God. Agnostic in my beliefs; if I decide to believe in a god I will choose NOT to worship It. If we thank god for making flowers, puppies, trees, clouds, sunshine etc. Then I feel he also created or lets exist all the bacteria, viruses and sickness in this world. I could almost classify myself as a God-hater. I don’t appreciate the set-up of “life itself” that its creatures are killing each other just to eat? To me nature is cruel and full of killing. But why does nature have to be Satan’s Church? It could be God’s church and God could be bad, mean, cruel, sadistic or plain disinterested in our comfort or happiness.
I understand her anger. The sad fact of infanticide has been a fact of life as long as men and women have walked this earth (it is not new). And if God put us in this predicament of human and animal suffering; then I understand being Anti-Christ. Christ being God’s too-little too-late “gesture” to mankind. Even centuries after Christ man was still killing each other and persecuting women for centuries.
I liked the film . . .
What is up with women climbing the hill at the end
Thanks for the excellent discussion that competently hits the important and interesting parts of the film, and once and for all slices through the arrogant, uneducated idea that von Trier makes misogynist art.
I think von Trier’s lament that he was too mentally under the weather to do the film up to his own standards is true. I think if he were in better shape he’d have made a couple things a little more clear for the sake of enjoyment. But as it is, the film deals with witch-hunting on a level of honesty and maturity perhaps never done before in movies.
The discussion of witchcraft is particularly helpful in this article. People who throw misogyny at von Trier first of all are not male artists like myself, who know that it’s damned hard to depict women in art realistically. The fact that von Trier keeps trying and gets it right half the time is not misogyny; it’s commendable effort. Not trying, and presenting women as a male artist and sticking to old formulas that everyone accepts but that are total crap, is misogyny.
The film can be looked at as a film for men, who are encouraged to learn this lesson: if you go into women’s world, you implicitly give up all the pragmatism you cherish, because your skills are from the other half. His experiences in the film are beautiful renderings of absorption into women’s world, which we men cannot understand, and the couple’s ridiculousness as explained by the authors of this article demonstrates men’s world failing as soon as it hits women’s, all our psychological edifice be damned. So, are psychology, reality and morality still misogynistic…?
Ok, I picked up on all the major things of the movie but I have some questions for anyone out there. What is the meaning of the three beggars (fox, bird, and deer). Why is the fox eating his own guts and the deer has a dead deer offspring attached to him. What is the meaning of the end?
I thought it was mistitled because I kept thinking I would see an exorcism by Max von Sydow or some kind of little girl peeing and there wasn’s anything interesting like that. It isn’t as good as Murnau’s “Faust.”
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Christ means “clean” in hebrew.
Notice how they both shower and wash their clothes in the beginning.. to no avail, they’re still as “dirty”.
Check out The Essene Gospel of Peace.
Satan was said to be sickness caused by parasites, according to Jesus himself. Jesus/Yeshua and Yahweh means “I am”.. “Who are you?” “I am clean.” Antichrist is anybody who is not, according to the bible.
“Von Trier’s Antichrist is a Solipsist’s oneiric cosmogony founded upon sempiternal dissolution of its noumenal paradigm,the ultimate sublation within Swedenborgian dereification. He consummates his diegetic mimesis: executing an epicene and orgiastic recorso of Nietzchean epigonic apotheosis.”
Is that right?
I think the meaning is overlooked. Dafoe got Lyme disease and hallucinated the whole thing. The movie itself is a chaotic mess.
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What a load of crap. People claiming that “anybody that labels von Trier’s art as misogynistic is obviously ignorant/uneducated”. That if you don’t adore von Trier, you just don’t “get it”.
I’m reading a bunch of intellectual masturbation by people with no authority on feminism. Enjoy your circle jerk.
I find very strange that the fox when united with the other two animals in the end is wearing a bell, also he finds a crow’s feather usually associated with death, but also rebirth.
I have two theories regarding this film.
First maybe all the witchcraft was true, and by “she” first allowing (perhaps causing) the death of her child, and then being killed herself, she has imbued him with all the responsibility, and he has become the antichrist.
That is why she does not fight back at the choking.
So while he is the antichrist, he has become an object of power who the faceless women will now take and sacrifice to complete a truly powerful ritual.
In this case the fox and his “chaos reigns”, justifies the wildness not because of chaos in itself throughout the movie but showing him that nothing is as it seems, later in his reappearance with the bell he is calling him forward to fulfill his place.
My second theory is that this woman is mad, and has gone so far as to mutilating and hobbling him, but he himself is taken in by the power of the woods, the loneliness of the cabin and his own ineptitude, to what she experienced when living there herself.
The animals are real enough to be experienced by him, and push at his psyche in very important times, the fawn with the stillborn shakes him out of his trying to cure her with love, the fox with his line underscoring all the natural death and the church of satan theme, finally the crow which tells on him, gives a way his position and leaves him no way out but to face the final chapter of all three means death.
He kills her, the death has been fulfilled and all is right, except it’s not, the fox makes his comeback and rings his bell, now he’s taken her place, his mind has broken and persecution will be his private hell, just as it was for her.
I hope I am not being naive, and please excuse me for the bad English it is not my native language.
If someone has anything to say to me please write at
Well I must say, I watched this movie last night, and although much of what the people above say has truth and meaning, I didn’t take the same meaning from the movie that everyone else seems to. In my view, it was a supernatural movie. She brings him to the garden of eden, to usher in the hell on earth. “She” is the anti-christ and allows him to kill her at the end as it will fulfill the prophecy and usher in the end of days, as effectively as killing him would. Her behaviour throughout the movie is consistent with this, as the anti-christ being human born, but satanic in nature, would thus reflect the extremes of human nature, i.e. the perversion of passion and sexuality with violence & sadism, reflected against the empathic and altruistic nature of love and the maternal, with all the psychological and philosophical themes (man vs woman, etc.) discussed above. The man then limps away, but as he had fulfilled the prophecy regardless, the faceless women were essentially (all philosophical ramifications aside) the hellspawn, returning to the garden of eden to prepare for hell on earth. This also being the fulfillment of her assertion that women are inherently evil, or at least that evil lives within, and as the prophecy had been fulfilled, the evil was thus realised and these women were then reverting to the base-ist parts of their natures and essentially becoming servants of satan. The tree, the thorny phallic symbol was thus the gateway, which is consistent with her behaviour around it, and also with the scene of the trapped or damned souls beneath and around it as he hobbles away.
The problem with it as just a movie about descent to insanity is that this interpretation makes the whole thing inconsistent, and throws up massive issues regarding the continuity and logical consistency (i.e. it would require a synergistic or shared delusion between the characters).
A very beautifully shot movie, but if the audience is left wondering and wholly unclear about the implications, it then becomes art for arts sake, and in my opinion the director has failed in his / her duty to the audience.
I’d like to offer a Christian perspective, which I would argue is legitimate since the filmmaker is Catholic. Antichrist refers not to a person, but to the state of the natural world. After the fall, the whole world carries the guilt of original sin–even nature, which “groans” under it. Everything that happens in the movie is very natural–we are just so used to it we don’t see it anymore. The male is arrogant and logical. The woman is emotional. The only way they can connect is through sex (which the Bible encourages husbands and wives not to withhold from each other). The mother switches the shoes on the toddler to protect him and to keep him from wandering away, similar to a mother confining her child to a playpen for hours–not ideal, but protective. Both the father and mother are self-absorbed and the child suffers, but doesn’t that happen every day. The dead tree is both a phallic symbol and an anti-tree-of-life. The fox hole is a womb to the safety of which no man is allowed to return. The three beggars (takers) are anti-three-wise-men (givers). The three beggars are also an unholy trinity: instead of the holy spirit represented by a white dove and representing hope, there is a black crow representing despair; instead of the healing crucifixion of Jesus, The Word, there is a speaking fox that offers only pain; instead of a creating father; there is an everlasting stillborn-bearing fawn. The woman emasculates and hobbles the man–isn’t that what all women do. She needs forgiveness and redemption from the man, but receives alienation and death. Near the end, if we are seeing the child climb onto the table from her perspective, she does not see that the window is open. (Remember, the wind, i.e. nature, blew the window open.) What she sees that disturbs her is her child bowing before the three figurines–or the three beggars. The man considers himself a heroic figure at the end. He has become one with nature, foraging berries like a wild animal. He sees the three beggars and believes he has their approval. He has acted as a natural man and not a spiritual man. However, the three beggars always mean death. So the berries he eats are poison. The faceless women are both an hallucination caused by the poison berries and a representation of the hell he has earned–to live among faceless women without ever understanding them or being spiritually one with another. (I have no idea why there is a bell on the fox at the end. Possibly the concept of purification and purging through pain has been “belled” so that it is ineffective and meaningless.)
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The theme of the movie was totaly over shadowed with the sex, the sex took away from the movie and got the viewer distracted to what was really being presented. When directors think they have a shallow plot, they always resort to sex to prop it up, the weaker the plot the more graphic the sex. Movie studios are now seeking out comic books (graphic novels)only show they they are at a loss for any really good ideas. Violence and sex always sells, who the hell needs a story …
Popularity of movie is proven when this page is receiving comments by 3 years.Still the movie is being watched by the people around the globe.rest the debate about perspective whether it is just a story or some supernatural thoughts behind that. that is purely a perspective how a human brain takes it,which stimulates from the senses of our feelings & experiences with the life.
This is obvious that movie is a ambiguous creation of director which provokes human brain to rediscover the solution.what? why? how? are the questions starts in brain to & we read the philosophy written by Nina Power,who proclaims the purpose of portraying the artwork.As per my perspective also this movie really matches to the illustration of the senior professor of philosophy.This world which is really a Satan’s church is created by Devil to make us feel the sadness generated by our own guilt & regrets.Satan tries to cheat by confusing us in false hopes raised by our arrogance & ego.He misguides us & never make us forget the sad past so that we couldn’t be able to get the true wisdom & hope given by God.As much as we believe on sadness we pursue despair & when these three beggars arrive someone must die. so friends always turn green as the movie says & beware of these 3 beggars!
I came upon the movie last night by sheer happenstance (couldn’t sleep) I knew nothing of its history.I found it disturbing, captivating and mystifying, which is what spurred me to look for some explication.The comments here have been very thought provoking.I find myself agreeing with elements but not all of several of the theories/interpretations here. None are completely satisfied (the sign, as someone said, of a superior work that people are still talking about)
I wondered if anyone had some thoughts on the significance of the moment in Ch. 4 when He looks out at the night sky and says “there is no such contellation.” It’s not mentioned here but to my mind is significant I think that is the moment when he fully accepts that reason does not define the world and that Satan is within us all; good and evil, life and death exist simultaneously.Thus the Doe,generally seen as gentle, giving birth but to a dead fawn; the fox, an animal of prey, destroying itself; and the crow, a scavenger feeding off the dead, itself unkillable The constellation is not “unknown” because science and reason tell us so but,rather because all creation-good and evil-are not known.Hence,he accepts his wife’s prophecy that someone must die.When the choice is between him and her it is she who dies because she succumbs to her guilt (her goodness) and he succumbs to his evil (his blame of her when he learns that she abused Nic.) I still feel confused by the ending but perhaps the the appearance to him of the “three beggars” and the berries is meant to reinforce the duality in both men and women-we can find nourishment or death. The appearance of the faceless women I really don’t know how to read.I have to say though that my gut reaction was that it was something good not evil. Perhaps that, by fulfilling the prophecy, these women of tortured souls (literally persecuted as “witches” just for being imperfect “humans”)are now released. To what I’m not sure.
Thank you all for the interesting discussion.
What a fantastic discussion – in all seriousness, absolutely no sarcasm implied. When I saw “Antichrist” I dismissed it as simply being the self-indulgent artless work of an arrogant director looking for a negative reaction. This was about a year ago. This film, however, never left my head and over the past few months, I read several reviews that supported my original feelings plus putting the mysognistic angle into my head – one that had never dawned on me while watching the film. As a Christian, I couldn’t help but evaluate it under the mindset that this was Satan’s Eden and that the devil had, at the end, “won.” However, after reading this discussion, my entire opinion of the film has changed. I appreciate the suggestion that the title is perhaps a colliquial misnomer and really may not have anything to do with the Biblical concept of the Antichrist. Once that connection was removed, I felt more willing to re-examine the film in its entirety. I think the idea of obsession here is demonstrated really well – we tend to draw fear into obsessions, things become so repulsive and vile that they take over your mind and become your entire world, one where you are powerless to do anything except allow them to play out and own you. I also found that not only did this discussion eliminate any claims that this film was misogynistic, but it actually shifted the paradigm to empower women – so much that sometimes men feel they have no choice but to destroy them. There are a lot of things mentioned here that I could go on about, but that wasn’t the intention of this comment. All I wanted to do was thank you for turning this film, in my opinion, from the most needless piece if trash that I have ever sat through to now one of the most beautifully bold pieces of art that I have no desire ever to watch again. Although that sounds like a back-handed compliment, it really isn’t – I don’t think “Antichrist” is the kind of film that you need to watch over and over again to understand, because really – the imagery is very straight forward and plot wise it’s hard to misconceive – but it is the kind of film that gets in your head and stays there, and I appreciate its presence in my thoughts now, as it used to annoy and infuriate me. Excellent work!
Thank you. This was incredibly enjoyable to read. It’s so refreshing that you made the nuances in the film unfold so well with so much context and relevant reference. The pop film criticism available has mistaken synopsis and a one-liner opinion (“I didn’t like it.”) for insight. It feels like reading essays by an average American high school student (unsurprisingly).
This film is torture porn. There’s no real deep meaning to anything. Christian symbolism and metaphors are jammed together in a mesh that doesn’t work. The misogyny is blatant and something oft-repeated in Trier’s misanthropic and depressing work. There’s no real intelligence and wisdom to anything within this film. People just try to justify the fact they watched a woman go insane for no good reason and BASH HER HUSBAND’S BALLS IN AND SCREW A WHEEL INTO HIS LEG by saying it’s “art”.
Wow … I’m really suprised how many different interpretations can be conceived for this film; and all of them seem to strike a chord. This only proves to me it’s a major work of art. Thanks for all the insight; for example that the women at the end may be the spirits whose hands are sticking out of the ground between the roots; I interpreted the final scene as follows: the man has finally given in to the irrationality of nature by strangling the women, thereby in a way fullfilling her deepest wish – to be punished for her innate evil (as she sees it). Therefore he is now reconciled with the irrational domain of nature, the buried spirits have risen and are not hostile to him anymore. He’s part of the chaos and destruction now – in the calm eye of the storm. …. But then again, I find the idea he is eating poisoned berries and thereby already slipping into the afterlife very interesting as well.
ps: The man, all through the film, shows absolutely no signs of mourning, or any emotion for that matter … So perhaps he is projecting all his grief on her; or supressing it. He may be secretly blaming her all the time, but refuse to acknowledge it. And he shows no grief at all, himself. Him seeing all the deformed animals may be a sign he is going insane himself, as a result of trying to be overly rational.
When the woman was strangled at the end, I felt absolutely no relief, of the kind one normally feels when the villain is being killed at the end of the film. So although the plot suggests that She is the evil one, abusing her child and willfully luring it to death (perhaps as a revenge for the century’s of gynocide by men and christian religion), Von Trier does a lot to undermine this; one cannot help but feel pity or some level of understanding for her too. The fact that the very nature of material existence in Von Triers view is evil, leaves no place for a “goody”. One can certainly not say that the man is the good guy. In the end, both are victims of evil. The end even suggests that the man is more comfortable with evil, at harmony with it in the end; while the woman is clearly suffering from her own evil all the time and more or less chooses to die. She just doesn’t want to be left alone.
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Just finished watching the movie and resorted ahead to some sites where I could find explanations and seen this. I have never encountered a movie that had so many interpretations like this one. I must say, I’m still not convinced and I’m still baffled with the whole construction of the film. I can’t see the purpose of implicating so many symbolisms that most of the audience would leave them resorting to their own understanding. Like most of you have said, Antichrist is a movie about religion (of any sort) and as a Catholic, I beg to differ. As biased as it would seem, I don’t like incorporating this movie with the Bible and its contents. Tier must have just tried to animate everything what’s on his head and produced Antichrist as the outcome. I didn’t see any rulings in the film that might have established some sort of a religious backbone that probably led the characters’ developing behaviours. There were elements in the film though that would support the most likable theory of this very mind-boggling film but as I said, they were just elements in the story (like the Xray photo that was just left right there) and nothing more. I think the film was just trying to show the imbalances between couples, and how negligence and disregarded detainments could lead to greater destruction and insanity. It’s obvious that the two just lost it.
The film itself was so intense and complex that many have gone to search for meaning and some, created their own. Having to think who should be the Antichrist is one of the things that would seem to consider (given that it’s the title but has no relevance in the film) but unlikely for me, it’s just a mere implication that being Christ-like somehow contradicts the true intention of humans. I think the film was generally about compromising guilt and ignorance that resulted to somewhat a tragedy and a liberation at the same time. I am not really sure though as, like what I said, I am skeptical myself.
Just gotta say….Willem’s voice is to die for.
Jeg så filmen i aftes, men har naturligvis hørt den omtalt. Kan bare ikke se hvad meningen er med den slags film. Den er så hadsk, grusom, fjendsk og uhyggelig at man flere gange må se væk for at skåne sig selv.
Den er så vanvittig og syg, beskriver kun vold på flere bestialske måder.Der er intet godt at sige.
Det grusomme hænger længe i lokalet efter tv er slukket.Vil gå så vidt at mene”den slags film burde forbydes”-for jeg anser den som direkte farlig.
Det er en gal mands værk. Hitler og nazisterne blegner i sammenligning.
I viewed all but the last 30 minutes or so of Antichrist on Netflix this evening. I was taking it all in and enjoying the work required of me to understand it. I suspended judgement after she hit him with the chunk of wood, but I had to hit pause and look away when she returned to him with the lathe. Immediately, I went to Google to search for explanations/interpretations. I needed to know if I was viewing a meaningful story (meaning: will I learn something of value?) I am so grateful to have found this site. It validated my processing, as well as, sent me in further search of new definitions and philosophers. I will return to the movie and finish it. Thank you to the reviewers and all who commented.
I watched this movie about a month ago. I just happened to see a short article about this director’s new movie coming out. I happened upon this site by googling more info about “AntiChrist”. I am impressed by all the comments and well-thought out ideas concerning this film. I would like to find some comments from the director himself. Regardless, of what he has to say about it- I think he would have a positive view of the discussions posted here.
Watched it last night. Just finished reading the article(Do you really have to use that kind of vocabulary? I ended up google translating more than actual reading) and i must say that the writer of this piece is too caught up impressing his readers. I enjoyed the movie and got me thinking but everyone is reading way too much into this.
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You don’t need to have an MD to be a therapist.
The films title does, after all contain the clue to decipher this film.
It is a negative of the nativity, a reversal of all concepts and conclusions in the “creation” of man.
This is the deconstruction of woman.
@Brad Madson — A suggestion if I might: all will be made clear if you’ll just take the time to scroll up to Saul Schulman’s final comment. (http://www.filmquarterly.org/2009/12/antichrist-a-discussion/comment-page-1/#comment-18952)
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You are a great discovery for me!
The film is since the 1st time seeing in 2009 one of few everfavourites + fighting for n.1 position (classicly for Apocalypse Now ).
I introduce a few things:
1. immediately i saw it as a classic artwork about
the Apollic against Dionysus everlasting struggle.
( See the usefull Camille Paglia book for further
It’s a perfect visualisation of The Bacchantes mythos
So it goes much futher than justthe superficious man- woman thing.Of course there are much layers in the film, that’s why it’s so good, a good artpiece must have multyple layers although it doesn’t need to be “perfect”‘. Perfection often spoils the art ( like in real life ). It’s the imperfection that makes the art and life intriguing.
2. Also i felt that i was in a Tarkovsky-movie (which i love ), and was pleased to read at the end that indeed it was a homage to this russian masterfilmer.
3. The bell on the fox-comment made me smile cause this was new for me and makes me think further.
4.A great thing of the film is that it starts with a mini-film,the introduction,and that says it all
Thanks for writing on this. As someone who is deeply involved in the field of psychology, I’m hoping I can clarify a thing or two what Rob White and Nina Power said.
You do NOT need an MD to be a therapist. To be a PSYCHIATRIST (aka in order to prescribe psychiatric drugs) you need an MD. The main male character did not have his MD which is why he could not prescribe his wife drugs; however, you can be a licensed therapist with many other degrees. With a PhD in Psychology, you can be a psychologist (based on his treatment methods, this is probably what he was), you can be a Licensed Social Worker doing therapy with a Master’s. There is a very wide range of other therapy positions that do not require an MD – in fact, most don’t. It’s unlikely that he was “some kind of drop-out.” He probably was a licensed therapist who thought she needed more psychotherapy (especially exposure to her painful emotions) and fewer drugs to numb the pain.
Additionally, empiric evidence shows that many of the therapy methods he was using (example: exposure therapy) can be very helpful to people suffering from posttraumatic stress/phobias. Exposure helps people realize that their fears are not rational, so they can learn not to fear that which doesn’t harm them. So it wasn’t necessarily that his therapy methods were “poor therapeutic technique,” but rather, it’s at least partly the fact that *HE* shouldn’t have been doing her therapy in the first place. He was in a romantic relationship with her – and obviously that is a recipe for disaster. Every psychology student in any decent institution is taught (almost in excess) that you should not sleep with a patient, and you should not treat people you know. The relationship affects the quality of the treatment – for example, she kept having sex with him compulsively, which was unhelpful and would not have happened in a professional, third-party setting. Therefore, she should have seen a therapist who was in no way emotionally involved with her, and then she may have gotten actual help.
Hope this helps others’ understanding.
This is the first time I have ever written a comment on a film. I felt it needed back-up after all us women sla***** it off. I thought this film was amazing. I think people are thick to criticise it as being misogynistic. That’s way too simplistic. I am glad for once that a film shows women being evil (witout being ‘bitchy’)connected to religion. There’s way too many films about men being the evil force. The Omen to name one. The ‘male’ voice of the Exorcist. Medusa Touch (yes I’m a 70’s horror fan) The female main role knew what she was doing. I liked that in a strange way. And there is nothing more powerful than nature. So this made the intensity great for me. I don’t believe in God and Satan, to make this clear, but the director clearly has researched in depth, not just on the surface. I go out in the mountains all the time, and I understand the fears of nature and how the mind can be taken on a journey from the real to the surreal. That is what is so incredible about our minds. And the director has embraced its inner most fears and depths. I felt it was a believeable ‘middle class’ intellectual relationship between the two fo them. The woman intellectualising their intuition and the man rationalising until he is proven otherwise. Anyway, I loved the cinematography and the lack of music (commenting as a working composer) was perfect. There are so many movies nowadays that blast our eardrums with samples and minor keys with ‘booms’ of horror. This was far more exciting and intriguing. Wonderful film.
Nature is not horrible, nor is it wonderful, though both horror and wonder can be found in the emotional reaction we philosophical creatures have to it; nature can seem to have many differing faces to itself through us, as intimate aspects of the process.
The allure of a mystification of nature and an inversion of Judeo-Christian mythos (an acknowledged factor for this fan of Tarkovsky) holds little weight unless we deliberately repress our critical analysis to a point of reference akin to childlike tabu worship.
In simple terms there is nothing provocative about suggesting that Satan created nature if one understands that Satan in the Hebrew texts is simply anyone or anything that is adversarial to God, and that ‘evil’ is simply a word for actions which God does not like. The ‘shocking truth’ is the banality of evil, not its character. And the idea of monsters is what we gravitate toward when we feel the need to control things that disturb us; when we attempt to diminish through mystification and degradation, as with nature and (arguably) the feminine in this film.
Antichrist is filled with language that attempts to subvert without any mature understanding of the general indifference of nature to our needs and desires as a part of it. Only human arrogance can calls on us to suggest that nature is a horror story of suffering and cruelty. Nature seems to have no discernible intentions, and so (perhaps spoiled by our creature comforts) we are simply being reactionary in our beautifying and demonizing of it. We become separate from nature in our minds and try to label it through a projection of our own fears. This is a film for comfortable existential creatures to philosophize on and for intelligent and aware naturalists to laugh at the inherent perversity and silliness of.
Perhaps when something that is obviously intended to upset and shock is made with some craft then people feel the need to justify the effect it has on them by reading intellectual ideas into the work that either are not present or are actually pseudo-intellectual, as with the whole “Nature is Satan’s church” nonsense that simply reflects the director’s personal fears of the natural world as opposed to any actual intelligent position or insight concerning the natural process as a whole.
Lars Von Trier is a talented and creative filmmaker, but Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky run intellectual circles around the guy from their graves. And I have to wonder if his skepticism concerning psychoanalysis has anything to do with the fact that it may reveal certain humbling things about himself that he does not want to accept.
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