Posts tagged Antichrist

Melancholia (2011, Lars Von Trier; Cinematographer: Manuel Alberto Claro)

I thought it fitting to follow up the Antichrist still of a subdued, supine, Charlotte Gainsbourg sinking into the earth, with this similar shot from Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, in which Gainsbourg’s character, Claire, frantically attempts to outrun the immensity of her doom, only to discover terrestrial certainty is a horrifying fiction.  Whereas Antichrist utilized this imagery to comment on notions of sexual agency, the porousness of so-called terra firma in Melancholia is indicative of a larger, existential despair.

Split into two halves, Melancholia follows Claire and her sister, Justine (Kirsten Dunst, acting circles around her entire, previous filmography), as they prepare for the end of the world.  The two women serve as counter points to one another.   Claire, logical and controlling, is burdened by her flighty, depression addled sister who, in the film’s first half, suffers a nervous breakdown at her wedding reception, terrified of being constrained by the self-imposed prison of marriage and monogamous love.  “I, myself, hate marriages,” toasts the women’s mother (Charlotte Rampling), and hints of Antichrist’s feminist politics flicker through.  Allusions to paintings such as John Everett Millais’ Ophelia and Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Land of Cockaigne, as well as constant, booming notes from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, underline Justine’s fear that life is nothing more than a suffocating collection of empirical truths that leaves only two options, suicide or madness.  

Claire’s terror is that the opposite may be true, that her safe, married resort life, with its eighteen holes of golf and equestrian jaunts, is only the tremulous physical façade of an unknowable existence.  What has she built for herself, and why?  If melancholia exists, and its course is set for Claire’s resort, what purpose did the resort serve in the first place?  Everything she knew was wrong, and in its place an incomprehensible vastness, a daunting freedom.

This is Melancholia, depression, anxiety, and fear manifest, and in the film’s first eight minutes, from Justine opening her eyes to the decimation of the entire planet, everything is laid out with precision.   Justine, in her wedding dress, flees the constricting vines of the physical world and gives in to celestial astonishment as her body, refulgent with electricity, proves itself a conduit for the possibility of other worlds.  The court-yard, in a brief homage to Renais’ Last Year at Marienbad, defies luminal logic and casts bizarre shadows.  Two planets collide, and one is destroyed, towed under, and Claire is, in turn, towed under by the earth she though she comprehended, as the flag for the nineteenth hole waves violently, impossibly, behind her.

Melancholia (2011, Lars Von Trier; Cinematographer: Manuel Alberto Claro)


I thought it fitting to follow up the Antichrist still of a subdued, supine, Charlotte Gainsbourg sinking into the earth, with this similar shot from Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, in which Gainsbourg’s character, Claire, frantically attempts to outrun the immensity of her doom, only to discover terrestrial certainty is a horrifying fiction.  Whereas Antichrist utilized this imagery to comment on notions of sexual agency, the porousness of so-called terra firma in Melancholia is indicative of a larger, existential despair.

Split into two halves, Melancholia follows Claire and her sister, Justine (Kirsten Dunst, acting circles around her entire, previous filmography), as they prepare for the end of the world.  The two women serve as counter points to one another.   Claire, logical and controlling, is burdened by her flighty, depression addled sister who, in the film’s first half, suffers a nervous breakdown at her wedding reception, terrified of being constrained by the self-imposed prison of marriage and monogamous love.  “I, myself, hate marriages,” toasts the women’s mother (Charlotte Rampling), and hints of Antichrist’s feminist politics flicker through.  Allusions to paintings such as John Everett Millais’ Ophelia and Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Land of Cockaigne, as well as constant, booming notes from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, underline Justine’s fear that life is nothing more than a suffocating collection of empirical truths that leaves only two options, suicide or madness. 

Claire’s terror is that the opposite may be true, that her safe, married resort life, with its eighteen holes of golf and equestrian jaunts, is only the tremulous physical façade of an unknowable existence.  What has she built for herself, and why?  If melancholia exists, and its course is set for Claire’s resort, what purpose did the resort serve in the first place?  Everything she knew was wrong, and in its place an incomprehensible vastness, a daunting freedom.

This is Melancholia, depression, anxiety, and fear manifest, and in the film’s first eight minutes, from Justine opening her eyes to the decimation of the entire planet, everything is laid out with precision.   Justine, in her wedding dress, flees the constricting vines of the physical world and gives in to celestial astonishment as her body, refulgent with electricity, proves itself a conduit for the possibility of other worlds.  The court-yard, in a brief homage to Renais’ Last Year at Marienbad, defies luminal logic and casts bizarre shadows.  Two planets collide, and one is destroyed, towed under, and Claire is, in turn, towed under by the earth she though she comprehended, as the flag for the nineteenth hole waves violently, impossibly, behind her.

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Antichrist (2009, Lars Von Trier; Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle)

SPOILERS

As a Roland Barthes advocate through and through, I find it best, when confronted with a film by a controversial auteur, such as Polanski, or Allen, or Lars Von Trier, to clutch the baby as tightly as possible, and dump the bathwater out the window.  There are times when the personal history and politics of a writer or director can inform and enhance an enigmatic piece, but more often than not, the text can speak for itself, and oh, does Antichrist speak volumes.
Accusatorial fingers pointed at Von Trier, a PR disaster of a man, for delivering a mean-spirited, misogynistic cavalcade of a horror film are to be ignored.  Yes, Antichrist is mean-spirited.  Yes, it is about misogyny, but it’s hardly misogynistic.  A more apt description would be that Antichrist is actually a feminist text, one wrapped in a revenge story, then wrapped in a bloody bed sheet and kicked down river, a Kill Bill for the horror crowd.
Let’s start in reverse.  Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Defoe play an unnamed couple who retreat to the woods to grieve over the death of their son.  The woman succumbs to insanity and crushes the man’s penis with a rock, then cripples and attempts to murder him, like she may have murdered her child.  On its own, this makes a pretty good case for misogyny.  Since neither the man nor the woman are named, the audience immediately knows to treat the film’s narrative allegorically, and a woman who kills her child and mutilates men fits the classic patriarchal paradigm to a ‘T’, but that’s exactly the point.
Antichrist looks to the origins of these sexist fears, the castration anxiety, the dread of infanticide, the cerebral emasculation, and deconstructs them at their core.  The name of the cabin, Eden, serves to elucidate the pedagogical power play between the couple.  The man is a psychologist, an Adam figure who holds his knowledge over the Eve, who constantly threatens to dismantle his prelapsarian fantasies through cognizance of self.
Though the man may initially appear to be Antichrist’s protagonist, his insistence on returning to the cabin, with the intention of reestablishing traditional (Biblical) gender dynamics, and the woman’s abject fear concerning Eden, and its consuming, masculine elements, implies that the man has victimized the woman into psychological supplication.  The heroic delusions of the man, and the audience’s willingness to collude with these delusions, while he continues to manipulate the woman through “therapy” is the product of an oppressive masculine dialogue lasting centuries, from “Original Sin” to the Salem witch trials that the woman obsesses over in her research.  It is a dialogue for which men must pay.  The woman, representing all women, makes a stand to destroy the lineage of patriarchal oppression, first through the death of her male progeny, then through the brutal obliteration of the sex organs both functionally (the man’s penis crushed) and symbolically (the phallus destroyed, and the clitoris mutilated).
The man responds with fire.  A pyre is built, and like those Massachusetts’ women whose power terrified men, and religious institutions, in Colonial America, the woman burns for what she represents – chaos of gender boundaries.  The individual woman is eliminated but the soul of female empowerment rises from the ashes, in the form of hundreds of naked female bodies, to doll out vengeance for past, and present, atrocities.  Women emerge victorious in the finale of Antichrist, and it is a righteous victory.  The Antichrist is destroyed.  The Antichrist was He.

Antichrist (2009, Lars Von Trier; Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle)


SPOILERS


As a Roland Barthes advocate through and through, I find it best, when confronted with a film by a controversial auteur, such as Polanski, or Allen, or Lars Von Trier, to clutch the baby as tightly as possible, and dump the bathwater out the window.  There are times when the personal history and politics of a writer or director can inform and enhance an enigmatic piece, but more often than not, the text can speak for itself, and oh, does Antichrist speak volumes.

Accusatorial fingers pointed at Von Trier, a PR disaster of a man, for delivering a mean-spirited, misogynistic cavalcade of a horror film are to be ignored.  Yes, Antichrist is mean-spirited.  Yes, it is about misogyny, but it’s hardly misogynistic.  A more apt description would be that Antichrist is actually a feminist text, one wrapped in a revenge story, then wrapped in a bloody bed sheet and kicked down river, a Kill Bill for the horror crowd.

Let’s start in reverse.  Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Defoe play an unnamed couple who retreat to the woods to grieve over the death of their son.  The woman succumbs to insanity and crushes the man’s penis with a rock, then cripples and attempts to murder him, like she may have murdered her child.  On its own, this makes a pretty good case for misogyny.  Since neither the man nor the woman are named, the audience immediately knows to treat the film’s narrative allegorically, and a woman who kills her child and mutilates men fits the classic patriarchal paradigm to a ‘T’, but that’s exactly the point.

Antichrist looks to the origins of these sexist fears, the castration anxiety, the dread of infanticide, the cerebral emasculation, and deconstructs them at their core.  The name of the cabin, Eden, serves to elucidate the pedagogical power play between the couple.  The man is a psychologist, an Adam figure who holds his knowledge over the Eve, who constantly threatens to dismantle his prelapsarian fantasies through cognizance of self.

Though the man may initially appear to be Antichrist’s protagonist, his insistence on returning to the cabin, with the intention of reestablishing traditional (Biblical) gender dynamics, and the woman’s abject fear concerning Eden, and its consuming, masculine elements, implies that the man has victimized the woman into psychological supplication.  The heroic delusions of the man, and the audience’s willingness to collude with these delusions, while he continues to manipulate the woman through “therapy” is the product of an oppressive masculine dialogue lasting centuries, from “Original Sin” to the Salem witch trials that the woman obsesses over in her research.  It is a dialogue for which men must pay.  The woman, representing all women, makes a stand to destroy the lineage of patriarchal oppression, first through the death of her male progeny, then through the brutal obliteration of the sex organs both functionally (the man’s penis crushed) and symbolically (the phallus destroyed, and the clitoris mutilated).

The man responds with fire.  A pyre is built, and like those Massachusetts’ women whose power terrified men, and religious institutions, in Colonial America, the woman burns for what she represents – chaos of gender boundaries.  The individual woman is eliminated but the soul of female empowerment rises from the ashes, in the form of hundreds of naked female bodies, to doll out vengeance for past, and present, atrocities.  Women emerge victorious in the finale of Antichrist, and it is a righteous victory.  The Antichrist is destroyed.  The Antichrist was He.

16 notes