Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Insanema: Lars von Trier’s Crazy Like a Fox Antichrist

Posted by CinemaPsycho on June 5, 2010

MV5BMjE3MjQ2ODc1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjYyMzI5Mg_002.jpgWell, I was all set to check out Splice this afternoon when it turns out there’s a nice long Thunderstorm Warning and a Tornado Watch in my area. So I’m stuck at home all day. Don’t you just hate when that happens? You’re all psyched to see a certain movie on a particular day and then, guess what, Nature itself is preventing you from going. Wonderful. I’ll just go tomorrow, assuming it isn’t raining frogs or something. But it kinda bites for today, you know? I want to see it today, dammit! Ah well.

Anyway, I finally caught up with Lars von Trier’s controversial new film Antichrist the other night. After all the reviews and articles I’ve read, and discussions with film-fan friends, I feel like I’m the last person on Earth to have seen this movie! Of course I know that isn’t true. My Mom certainly hasn’t seen it, and I’m sure never will. They’re actually showing it on IFC for their “Grindhouse Month”, which I find kinda hilarious, since there’s really nothing “grindhouse” about this movie or Lars von Trier’s work in general. He would no doubt find that insulting, which makes it all the more amusing.

Now that all the hype has passed, however, I have to say I found Antichrist to be an underwhelming experience. Oh, it’s an interesting watch, to be sure. But the ravings of a lunatic are bound to be interesting on some level, even if they make no sense whatsoever. Several critics and bloggers have questioned von Trier’s sanity, and Lars himself admitted in interviews that the film was the result of a period of severe depression. But frankly, I’ve been wondering about the guy ever since the one-two punch of Manderlay and Dear Wendy (which he wrote and produced). Seriously, try sitting through those films sometime, and tell me you don’t wonder if ol’ Lars has lost his fucking Danish marbles. That’s not necessarily a knock on the guy – some of my favorite directors are completely out of their gourd. Certainly von Trier has made his reputation as a provocateur, and even his best films are acquired tastes. But while watching this, I found myself wondering if the “crazy Lars” stuff was all an act, a put-on so he can throw a bunch of weird, uncomfortable shit at the audience and be somewhat excused for it.

Despite my online moniker, I’m generally not a fan of “crazy cinema” (or as I like to call it, “Insanema”) unless it really works and has a good reason for being the way it is. Some of Takashi Miike’s films I really like a lot, and some of them just bore the shit out of me. You can tell when he has something interesting going on, and when he’s just being “wild Miike” for the sake of it. The best example is David Lynch, who I think knows exactly what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, even if some of us don’t get it at times. It’s not just an act for him. Some filmmakers seem to think, “oh, I’ll just break all the rules and make some crazy shit, and I’ll be the bad boy of the film world!” But breaking the rules only works if you know what rules you’re breaking and why. I’m not entirely convinced that Lars knows what he’s even trying to accomplish with this. He clearly understands the language of cinema, but he doesn’t seem to understand what he’s doing with it. You can be as “extreme” as you want to, but none of it really matters if you don’t make us care about what we’re watching.

That’s the basic flaw I see in Antichrist: as “out there” as it gets, von Trier never makes an effort to make us really care about these characters or what happens to them. It’s basically the story of a married couple who suffer the horrible tragedy of losing their child (due mainly to their own neglect, but that’s another issue). For some reason they go out to a cabin in the woods where the male, a therapist, tries to cure his wife of her severe depression. Then a lot of crazy shit happens. The problem is, we don’t really know these people. We never see them together before the tragedy, so we don’t know what they were like, and therefore have no rooting interest in their recovery or their future. They’re ciphers, symbols, stand-ins for Lars’ Big Ideas. Despite brave performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, I never cared a bit about them personally. So you can have all the explicit sex and genital mutilation you want, but it doesn’t matter if we have no investment in the characters that these things are happening to. This is your basic Screenwriting 101 stuff here, folks. I know Lars doesn’t care about that kind of thing, but it’s important that the audience give a shit for the 108 minutes of time they’re watching your film. He seemed to understand this when he made Breaking the Waves, at least.

Then the movie goes completely batshit about an hour into it, and just goes off the rails and never looks back. This is when we find out the real message of the film – that “women are evil”. OK, not saying I necessarily agree with that, but it’s not my issue. I don’t have a problem with him saying that. The problem I have is that he doesn’t say it very well. The film’s entire argument seems to be “Nature is evil, and women are controlled by nature, therefore women are evil”. That’s not a very persuasive argument, frankly. Why is nature evil? Because Lars von Trier says so? Come on, you have to do better than that. The fact that it’s the female character who says these things doesn’t make them sound any less loony. If you’re going to make that kind of controversial blanket statement, you have to back it up with something. Some empirical evidence. Anything that makes even the tiniest amount of logical sense. I mean, I’ve gone through my misogynistic phases too (pretty much every straight man has, if we’re being honest about it), but come on. It’s one thing to say that people (both male and female) can be stupid, cruel, insensitive, selfish, greedy and superficial – it’s entirely another thing to point at someone (much less either entire gender) and call them “evil” (as in “possessed by Satan himself completely fucking evil”). That’s whacked-out Church Lady nonsense. Unless we’re talking about Sarah Palin, then you’re pretty much dead-on. Seriously though, we’re supposed to buy into this stuff? What is this, an art film for tinfoil-wearing Tea Party members? Give me a break. Go to college.

But you know what? Some tiny little part of me suspects that Lars von Trier knows that his film is completely and utterly full of shit, and is secretly loving the reaction it’s getting from people who are foolish enough to take it seriously. I certainly couldn’t prove it in court, but I think there’s a chance that Antichrist is just a ridiculous prank on the audience. If so, then good work! If not, then the idea that this primitive nonsense is supposed to be Serious Art is perhaps the biggest joke of all. I know not everyone will agree with me on this, and I don’t expect them to. But if this is what passes for “art cinema” these days… drop me off at the nearest Jerry Bruckheimer production.

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