Before I re-post, I will say one thing -- Criterion or not, I feel sorry for you if you weren't able to catch Antichrist in a theater, where it is fully wrapped in the largest of darkness, aiming to pierce the soul with its light.
Some of this initial reaction is a bit rambling -- I wrote it out very late at night the same night I first saw it -- but it's truly excited, and that's why I love it.
No one should be able to claim that they "like" this film. No one should be willing to walk out of a theater and talk to friends about how awesome it was, how much they enjoyed the experience. And besides, for most that typically have their minds up before they leave the row they were sitting in, and are actually able to string sentences together like, "Awesome," or "District 9 was so much cooler, dude," or whatever, Antichrist will quickly fade from their short term memory like a one-night stand.
I cannot possibly think about the new LVT experience in anything but a mulling-it-over, wrestling-it-to-death, and absolutely-sure-I-will-change-my-mind-about-some-ideas-as-new-ideas-come-up sense. There's just no way to string a proper thought together after one sitting -- I mean, check it out: even uberFILMGOD EBERT had to see it twice before writing a proper review. So as I attempt to write a few thoughts out after my first screening, I know that many of these will be shaped and molded over time. And I'm fine with that.
Some words, then. Just words.
And I think that final word "Hopeless" is a great way for me to begin rambling.
[A friend of mine] found a quote five years ago in which LVT was thinking of making a film that asked the question, "What if Satan, not God, created the world?" And years later, in the midst of severe depression, I'm sure the idea opened up for LVT in ways unimaginable upon the idea's inception.
But even more important than what was going on in Lars' head while he created this work is the original idea itself. What if Satan, not God, created the world? Or better yet, what would a world look like in which God were not a part of the creating process and was perhaps even absent completely?
Everything that people of faith love (well, love wouldn't be a part of this world either, but anyway) about their understanding of the way the universe operates is automatically called into question. Things like hope, peace, serenity, justice, integrity, honesty, blessing, sacrifice, Sabbath -- none of these things can exist in a world created by the one who will only tear up, seek out, and kill. Were the author of chaos, befuddlement, theft and destruction the actual creator of a world in which humans lived, everything that we understand would be turned upside down.
SEX. It isn't for pleasure for another, nor is it for propagation. In fact in a world so full of sorrow, the only use of it might be for self-gratification, a basic pleasure for oneself to escape pain.
Where did She's child even come from? The story certainly doesn't tell us she gave birth to him. The story only shows us that He and She are in charge of him. And there is a lot of grief at his death. He seems to get over this the easiest. Hey, the kid is dead, now how can I heal She. But there is no healing in this world. And for all the grief She displays, is it because of the actual loss of her child, or is She perhaps full of grief because She couldn't love the child anyway? Perhaps she even feels guilt (her eyes were open to his fall in the latter portion of the story) that the child could not be loved, was never cared for, and was never considered a blessing. The deer that walks away in the woods, with its half-born fully dead offspring still hanging from its womb seems to allude to the fact that here, in this world, birth is not a blessing. The ejaculation of blood instead of semen can actually represent that He had more than a wound, but that in a world created by Satan, the Creation isn't even given the right to re-create.
COMPANIONSHIP in this world is turned into a study of the other, in He's case, to make her healthy and well so that He can go back to having what He needed. Is there ever an attempt at fulfillment through love? Is there really a chance for companionship in this dark and seedy environment?
NATURE. The place that we go to get away from it all, to relieve ourselves of the hustle and bustle, a place to pray, maybe fish, take a Sabbatical, be at one with creation. In the new world nature is subverted to be the constant, unchanging enemy. The snow foreshadows the death of a baby. The acorns keep you awake at night. The winds howl at your thoughts, the ground burns at your feet. The animals aren't even at peace and speak of the reign of chaos. Human nature is even diminished to only feelings of grief, torment, anger, despair. Nature, both that of the world and the world inside you, is something to try best to avoid. Because it is not warm, inviting, showing the greater parts of a good creator. Nature is your enemy, from the outside and within.
EDEN, the place where the story actually begins. The place where She festers her resentment toward He, for not being there, for not helping her in her quest for her dream -- her thesis. Later when the couple retreats to Eden, a place they believe they might go to find resolution and healing, and maybe even comfort in each other amidst this tragedy, they find their plans again thwarted. The beginning of their story offers as little hope as any other part of their psychological development.
ENLIGHTENMENT cannot be found. She originally retreated to Eden to complete a thesis on the centuries of (what appeared to be religious) hatred toward women. (Love how LVT throws in the misogyny element here, perhaps to throw his detractors off a bit.) She is studying some of the first recorded 17th century misogynists and trying to come to terms with the systems and worldviews and cultures that have carried off these hateful crimes. She is looking to learn and explain; she is seeking enlightenment. Instead she comes away from her studies baffled and confused. In a daze at one point she tells Him, "They got what they deserved." Enlightenment or any means at finding a Truth cannot exist in this oppressive, lying world.
THE TRINITY. Of course in this world created and run by Satan, a Trinity of animal beggars is going to try to attain a balance, a recapitulation of all things. But here it doesn't work that way. No sacrifice ("When the three beggars arrive, someone has to die.") is going to restore anything beautiful, for here there is nothing beautiful to be restored to. When the sacrifice is finally made (and at this point I'd like to interject that I never saw THAT coming), there is no change that will take place here. The trinity will be destined to wander. He will most likely be ready to join the dead.
Oh, and here's the craziest thought of all --
NOURISHMENT. Is there an earlier time in the film when we see anyone eating anything? Because at the end, when the sacrifice has been made and nothing has changed, He stops for some berries in the forest. What would typically strengthen his body only brings him instant death. He joins those who have been lying down. They all walk on together. One could guess that only Hell awaits.
The film brought me to prayer last night, as many great works of art do. I prayed for Von Trier and his depression, that someday he will see the world in a different, more beautiful, more hope-filled light. I also thanked God for the world He has made -- when you get a chance to see what it might be like without his authoring, it brings a breath of fresh air when you chance to see the real thing.
A few final thoughts...
The way it was shot was absolutely mesmerizing. Seriously, Von Trier has outdone himself in the cinematography department. Yes, it is artsy. And yes, with the euphonious female lead in the operatic score at the beginning and end, and the slow-mo black and white montage, Antichrist comes off as not only non-mainstream but maybe even anti-mainstream. But man, if you can just sit and soak in it, the images that slide off the screen and into your eye sockets and heart are just sultry. I have no problem admitting this is his most beautiful looking film to date.
The shots of the woods around Eden were other-worldly. Much of the film had a soft-focus, eerie feel to it, and Lars enjoys going into blurring moments to pull out lingering images. But the woods were altogether different. The visual effect may have been a filter combined with other transposed woodland images. Whatever it was, it was both disorienting and enlightening. My heart skipped with those shots of the wind in the woods.
And let's briefly talk about the sex stuff, because there's been a lot of hubbub regarding this issue, and I've got to say that I don't get it. The penetration shot? Artistically beautiful as opposed to pornographic. The masturbating of the penis? After the log in the groin (loudest, and most respectable "Ooooh" in the film), more sick than a turn-on. Even the female masturbation scene, which I may concede was a lot less necessary, was less erotic and more ominous. Over all of this nakedness and sex stuff was a foreboding psychology that all was not well in this Devil-created system -- rendering most actions, sex included, no fun indeed. Think of the morgue in Brakhage's The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes. What we were seeing had a deeper, more penetrating (no pun intended, sorry) meaning, than simply the idea of ogling flesh.
Speaking of ogling flesh, one fun part of the experience for [the friend I saw it with] and myself -- except for the fun I had watching [him] squirm at times -- was watching the couple making out in front of us during the closing credits! Just WHAT THE HECK was THAT?!
Oh, and speaking of the closing credits, I've got to say I don't understand the nod to Tarkovsky. While I liked the film, and I can see that LVT borrows from a wealth of great directors, Bergman and Tarkovsky included, why the nod here? Why now? And isn't it true that there was once a time when Von Trier tried to take a script or something to Tarkovsky only to get laughed at? Or am I getting that story wrong.
You might think me a masochist, but I can't wait to see Antichrist again.