For a director who has been accused of making films which centre around the manipulation of emotionally battered women by misogynistic male characters, Antichrist seems to be Von Trier having a giggle at these accusations by handing us one of the most graphic scenes in cinematic history: female self circumcision, a pointed and indulgent excursion into a misogynistic.
From the outset we’re led to mistrust Willem Dafoe’s character, 'Him', a therapist who takes it upon himself to counsel his wife after the death of their child. Deconstructing her grief, he is clearly manipulating Charlotte Gainsbourg’s 'She', using her pain and digging to the root of her fears in order to maintain a safe distance from his own grief, while exposing her to emotional damage.
However, despite the outrage and hype this film aroused at it's Cannes screening, it is really only the final 30 minutes of the film which require hand over eye censorship, for the first 50 minutes the painful aftermath of a child’s death is conveyed through a variety of powerful cinematic techniques. Von Trier deploys slow motion, sound and sharp then misty colours to excellent effect. He synthesises the physical symptoms of anxiety through heightened white noise and intense close ups. Slow motion is used throughout, creating a stop motion effect during dreamlike sequences, and the titles sequences marking each chapter of the film are bold and brilliant in their simplicity - chalk on sanded down piece of wood.
Antichrist is a dramatic departure form Von Trier’s dogma days, which deployed hand held camera’s, natural lighting and gritty realism. Once the couple journey into their woods, “Eden”, the cinematography becomes even darker and more beautiful, and frames throughout could easily become enchanting still photography.
The high production and dark fairytale/nightmare aesthetic he explores is reminiscent of Spanish director Guillermo Del Toro’s work in Pan’s Labrynth and El espinazo del diablo (The Devil's Backbone). The Grimm Brothers fairytale tangent could be further indulged when we contemplate the history of children's stories such as Snow White, who embodies both good and evil in women, as the wicked witch and Snow White are contsnatly shadowed by trail of forest creatures.
Antichrist sees Von Trier utilise quite conventional dramatic devices, such as the “turning point”, which sees our impression of each character take an about-turn, as mistrust for the manipulative husband is transferred to Gainsbourg, who’s paranoia and extreme instability becomes apparent when a diary is discovered in a hidden attic, and suddenly the focus becomes the dormant power of woman and nature - the two intrinsically connected. It’s a powerful and frightening film, with only two characters, all others mentioned (except for their son) remain invisible, faceless. It’s just the two of them and their genitalia doubles.
By Millie Ross