Sex and guilt taken to an illogical extreme or a battle of the sexes following the established occidental trilogy of sex-guilt and death. Mortified by guilt, degraded, hung, mutilated ; A combination Alfred Hitchcok and Agatha Christie without the mystery. But, intuitively a lot of Werner Fassbinder. A similar sincerity, in a desire to offend and shake the senses; and a abhorrance of instutionalized violence that is replaced by a personal and interpersonal morbidity and self immolation, that, like Fassbinder is an attack on bourgeoise society and its sensibilities, namely moral hypocrisy.
Still, one aspect of von Trier is becoming clear: his attitude to women, or specifically the female characters he creates in his films, are bizarre, bordering on the creepy and psychotic. Screen portrayals of women display almost a paranoiac fear of women; their fear and self-loathing is morphed into explosive malevolence which is so deep, it almost superficial and meaningless. His screen women are perpetually in jeopardy or in violent situations. Von Trier is like Danny DeVito’s Owen Lift, in Throw Momma From The Train, a timid middle aged man who has an overbearing abusive mother he dreams of killing, but loses the nerve when she abuses him. Interestingly, based on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Its a cruel transfer where the repressed violence , now graphic and explicitly reenacted, pushes the aesthetic of violence to its edge, where comedy meets tragedy. On his latest film, The Antichrist,….’‘The Hollywood Reporter was more positive, recommending the film to von Trier fans and calling it “visually gorgeous to a fault and teeming with grandiose if often fascinating ideas.”
The source of the title of this film, seems to derive directly from Nietzche’s ”The Antichrist”, and at once begins to unravel and make von Trier more coherent and less mysterious. ” ‘ I don’t know either the way out or the way in; I am whatever doesn’t know either the way out or the way in;’-so sighs the man of today…This is the sort of modernity that made us ill,-we sickened on lazy peace, cowardly compromise, the whole virtuous dirtiness of the modern Yea and Nay. This tolerance and largeur of the heart that ‘ forgives ‘ everything because it ‘ understands ‘ everything is a sirocco to us. … What is good?- Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man. What is evil?- whatever springs from weakness.” ( Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, introduction )
The evidence is abundant in von Trier’s outrageous new film, Antichrist, in which the beguiling Charlotte Gainsbourg, playing a woman known only as “She”, is forced to endure a series of hideous ordeals.Gainsbourg plays a wife ravaged by grief after her toddler son fell to his death while she and her psychotherapist husband (Willem Dafoe) were having sex. He suggests they recuperate on a break at their woodland cabin. But things go badly wrong. Infuriated by his calm, patronising manner, she attacks him with a block of wood, drills a hole in his leg, inserts an iron bar into it and attaches it to a heavy wheel.Then it’s her turn to suffer. In the film’s most excruciating scene, she commits an act of genital self-mutilation with a pair of scissors. Her husband finally strangles her and sets fire to her body.
In von Trier’s controversial musical, Dancer in the Dark (2000), singer Björk largely escaped such physical privations. As Selma, a poverty-stricken Czech immigrant in America, she merely goes blind, murders a man using a safe deposit box and ends up being hanged.Nicole Kidman was the next victim. In Dogville (2003), she played a gangster’s moll who arrives in a
ll, rural American town. She is perceived as an outsider, and the intolerant citizens insist she does demanding chores before submitting her to all kinds of degradation, finally forcing her to wear an iron collar with a bell and weight attached to prevent her escape. She becomes the helpless victim of the sexual whims of several men in the town.
Is it good art because the director says it is. Are the violent scenes ”ready mades”. Fill in the blank and cut and paste within the narrative. His films are an expression of his psyche…they mean nothing, they mean everyting. Dark and unorthodox, Antichrist is horrific but not horrible. It fits the horror genre through insecurities and loneliness emptying into an ambiguous psychological shadow play. There is a horror movie stylization and a psychopathic subtext, but the realism is not literal, the surreal is not dreamy , and the seriousness is also absurd, nearly comic.The gratuitous violence has no reason, yet has a multitude of excuses to justify itself. Its erotic, yet de-sexed. However, most of the violence here is rooted in the strange tangle of co-dependencies and the ensuing anger that visually, are powerful metaphors.
”If there is realism here, it springs from his time-tested technique of “tormenting” performances out of his actresses. In this he succeeds masterfully. In perhaps the most startling scene, a naked and entranced Gainsbourg leaves her husband to wander outside and lay in the soft mud at the base of a large tree where she begins to furiously masturbate. The scene is as genuine and sustained as it is disturbing and unerotic. These are the actions of a woman possessed or insane. It is the nexus between sex and death that resonates with an almost gothic sexual morbidity.he essence of this extraordinary film is conveyed in these moments, which linger in the subconscious and hint at a deeper story. As a narrative drama it fails to engage, thanks not least to the lack of chemistry between Gainsbourg and Dafoe, whose relationship is fleshed out solely through banal, lifeless verbal exchanges. It’s hardly their fault; they clearly can’t relate their characters to anything in their own experience because they are body and soul wholly von Trier’s fabrications.”( Jack Stevenson, Bright Lights Film Journal )
Agree or disagree, von Trier leaves few indifferent. In a sense its a ”safe ” movie, since the fear level to depart from the known and established for him is deeply entrenched and too discomforting to leave its embrace. Like Nietzsche’s Antichrist, his own film extols the anti-pity, oddly and paradoxically through characters who have little vitality, strength and to quote Nietzsche , whose ”depravity results because nihilistic values dominate under the holiest of names”. In von Trier, himself, a sort of schizophrenic logic, where his proper ”mankind”, out of fear, has bred a weak sick type of human, ( Nietzsche ), yet embodies the will to power.