542 Antichrist

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HitchcockLang
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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#401 Post by HitchcockLang » Wed Oct 16, 2019 10:16 am

After seeing mfunk's enthusiastic rallying cry in the Criterion Store thread for more participation here, I decided last night to watch Antichrist for the first time and invited my wife to join me. We love to watch horror movies in the month of October and I need to get my money's worth out of that Criterion Channel subscription anyway. The Criterion FIlm Club is also exactly the kind of thing I would like to participate in more but, to be frank and a little vulnerable, I'm awfully intimidated posting on this forum. I knew almost nothing about Antichrist going in (and so my wife knew even less). I had seen only one Lars von Trier film before (Dancer in the Dark) which I would say neither thematically nor stylistically prepared me for Antichrist.

Even though this is in no way intended as a review, I will begin with my more positive feelings before circling back around to the issues I had with the film:

Since my wife and I were approaching it as a horror film for October, even though it would seem Trier has distanced himself from that label (a fact I didn't know until searching up information on the film after watching), I was paying a bit more attention to genre convention than I may have ordinarily. I appreciated how Trier used many of the more cliche conventions of the horror genre (the rustic cabin in the woods, dissonant music, and even a jump scare--I physically jerked when the teddy bear transformed into the talking self-mutilating fox) but presented a film that did not feel like a conventional horror film in the least. This also really made me question what is and isn't a horror film. I've always found horror difficult to define. It's a bit like English adjective order, we recognize it when it's there but most people would have trouble explaining it to the satisfaction of all.

I also found myself wondering why horror is so often turned to for dealing with grief. Off the top of my head, Don't Look Now, The Babadook, both Hereditary and Midsommar, Spoorloos, Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House, and heck even the Saw franchise all use horror to address grief and loss. Is horror as a genre defined by fear? And if so, is that the connection? We fear grief and therefore grief can be appropriated as the next movie monster to stalk and destroy characters? I'm actually not so sure that fear is truly the defining feature of the horror genre, and interestingly enough, I found Antichrist to be almost intentionally bereft of fear. Previously noted jump scare notwithstanding, I never felt fear or even anxiety during my viewing of Antichrist and I am terrified by many films that my students would think were laughable (Universal classic monster movies still tingle my spine). I felt as though Trier were intentionally creating a sense of clinical dissection not only of the characters' psyches but of the genre itself, infusing horror with detachment and boredom, and therefore as a genre study, I found it fascinating.

Also, as you can see from my last two paragraphs, I really have more questions than answers on this topic and would love to hear what others of you have to add to the notion of genre regarding this film. Unfortunately, the meditation on genre is about the most valuable thing I gleaned from the film.

The symbolism (perhaps approaching allegory though I'm not sure) felt wildly inconsistent. Occasionally, I found a symbol to be eye-rollingly obvious (the grind stone attached to the male character's leg felt like a clear symbol for how we trap others in our grief, often hurting the ones we love the most), whereas much of the film felt impenetrable with some images feeling either too personal to the filmmaker or too obscure as to intentionally obfuscate any deeper meaning from the audience without offering any kind of key or path to understanding. In short, it's one of those films that made me feel stupid. I like a good challenging film and often find their layers peeled back through repeat viewings but the stomach-churning gruesomeness here feels almost like a feature designed to discourage revisitings.

My wife could barely make it through the first viewing. She recoiled at the bloody ejaculation and when Gainsbourg's character began drilling a hole in Dafoe's character's leg, my wife jumped up from the couch and said, "Yeah, I'm out." I pointed out that there was only a half hour or so left and she decided, having come this far, to finish it. She did not watch the genital mutilation scene, sensing what was about to happen. I did and rather wished I hadn't. My wife remarked that the sequences of gore only served to nauseate her. She also said that the film put her in a bad mood, a similar reaction, she noted, to her viewing of Michael Hanake's Funny Games US.

After the film was over, my wife and I discussed the film a little, both perplexed by some of its intended meanings, and both agreeing that the black and white slow motion prologue was beautiful and perhaps the best part of the film. That scene sparked an interesting conversation about how sex is the force which brings life to children and in this case, it was interesting that the same force (sex) that brings life to Nic also takes his life away, perhaps a meditation on the irony that we enjoy sex but that its result (children) can often curtail our sex lives or even imbue us with sexual guilt. Certainly Gainsbourg's character seems to be struggling with the guilt of her sexual desires which "killed" her son, ultimately rejecting pleasure through the removal of her own clitoris.

My wife also found all of this to be terribly misogynistic: the portrayal of a hysterical, sex-crazed woman unable to cope with her own grief who must be tempered by the calm rationality of the perfect man. While I don't disagree with her assessment of misogyny (opining that Trier perhaps doesn't know how to write women), I also did not view Dafoe's character as infallible as my wife did. I found him to be rather aloof with his son's death, and perhaps he was feeling intense grief as well, but his coping mechanism was to micromanage his wife's grief, a move which I thought may have been Trier's attempt at criticizing misogyny in relationships rather than perpetuating it.

Weirdly enough, the movie my wife and I found most similar to this dynamic was Ordinary People, in which my wife and I both found Mary Tyler Moore's character to be written so badly and with Donald Sutherland's written as the heroic, stable man who must set aside his own grief in order to be emotionally available to his hysterical wife's needs. It rang false in Ordinary People, and it rings false to me in Antichrist.

One last thing: I also noted the Biblical allusions, particularly the title and the cabin named Eden, but struggled to understand what religious subtexts were intended. It almost felt like a reverse of the exile of Adam and Eve: two lovers in shame return from exile to Eden. I found myself thinking of Aronofsky's mother!, another film which deals (to a much lesser extent) with grief and poses a stress on defining horror cinema. Aronofsky's film's religious allegory felt much clearer, if a bit obvious. Trier's film, conversely would have had almost the same impact on me without the religious nods as I found them merely distractions.

Overall, I wonder how much my first viewing of the film may have been compromised by my reading it as a horror film, but while I do not regret watching it, I cannot imagine wanting to revisit it, certainly not any time in the next several years.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#402 Post by domino harvey » Wed Oct 16, 2019 10:29 am

I don’t think it’s a misogynistic film at all, since the whole plot pivots on internalized misogyny taken to the most grotesque extreme possible. If anything, that it goes in this direction to a degree no other film ever had or likely will only aids in showing the danger of this kind of thinking! As a former academic, I also really like the idea of someone digging deep into a critical cultural study of something and unwittingly buying into the thing they’re so absorbed with

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#403 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 10:47 am

First off, HitchcockLang - this post is one of the best I've read in a long while here, and proof positive that you've got nothing to be intimidated by posting on this forum, which needs more of this sort of thing. Even a post a fifth of this length that's thoughtfully providing impressions of a film is an incredibly useful contribution. I'm frankly intimidated by the level of engagement you write with above, so if people who post as often as I do are the reason you've got any trepidation, you can officially set it aside.

I wanted to start with your wife's reading of the film as misogynistic, which von Trier is certainly no stranger to accusations of by viewers and some critics of his work. That said, upon revisits to this film, what she was paraphrased as seeing as "the calm rationality of the perfect man" is certainly questionable at best, as you alluded to, with regard to how the author of the work sees Dafoe's character. He is in touch with his own emotions, but not his wife's - which is ironic, because he has enlisted himself to be responsible for the latter in the face of an incredibly difficult challenge. He comes off as foolish, often turning to borderline psychobabble and exercises that seem besides the point in reacting to a genuine wound that needs to heal for both he and his wife. Whenever she speaks frankly about the situation, or about the way he views it, I tend to find what she has to say much more compelling and accurate, despite her turn toward being, in essence, the film's villain figure by its conclusion. You're spot on, in my view, as seeing the characterization of Dafoe being a criticism of misogyny (or, failing that, just of taking a coldly academic approach to spiritually and emotionally overwhelming conditions of humanity).

But is that enough to justify the behavior of Gainsbourg's character, and the way the film portrays it? Surely, it does not let her off the hook in the slightest - she was becoming driven insane by her work prior to the death of her son, and she is continuing to spiral. Surely von Trier's battles with depression and anxiety factor into the way he puts this character forth. If we were to make a generous leap toward involving the author in the work (ask the chicken about the chicken soup, in his words), surely Gainsbourg's character is the one that von Trier has written to represent himself and his struggles (he said he wrote this during his darkest period of depression ever), while Dafoe's seems to be an analog for the sorts of psychoanalysis he was surely undergoing in an effort to combat this. As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety myself, I can speak assuredly about Gainsbourg's generalized fears around the natural order, nature itself, and her own capacity for evil - this is all relatable and evidence of both an author and character who are very in tune with some difficult things I've rarely seen represented in films or really anywhere else. Does it complicate matters that she's writing about gender specifically? Absolutely does. And I wouldn't put my nose in the air at anyone who has no patience for this sort of portrayal of a woman, let alone a female academic who is endeavoring to understand patriarchal mistreatment of women. But in von Trier's case, he is someone who, in his own efforts to move closer to understanding the human condition, has often wound up the butt of his own joke.

EDIT: Just to touch on Domino's point about internalized misogyny - whenever I watch this film I always inevitably think of an absurd myth I've heard from different people throughout my life, it's surely taken many forms, but of an atheist academic who dedicated his life to disproving the existence of God and wound up on the other end becoming a devout Christian after years of study. These are the sorts of tales people tell themselves, of course, less than valid representations of real life occurrences - but I see Trier as representing in the form of Gainsbourg his own ability to spiral - in analyzing his own depression, as Gainsbourg digs out her own internalized patriarchal tendencies, he manages to only convince himself that things are more chaotic and more hopeless and more out of his control than he'd assumed. It's often those who have an easier time compartmentalizing or ignoring these thoughts who have the easiest time coping with, say, the inevitability of death or the unpredictability of nature, or, of course, a long history of societal misogyny on levels both easily and not so easily perceptible. It manages to drive Gainsbourg further and further into her own fear and self hatred, when she surely set out on this project to achieve the opposite.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#404 Post by DarkImbecile » Wed Oct 16, 2019 10:57 am

I'm generally sympathetic with your reading regarding the film's treatment of misogyny, Domino, but I'm wondering how you (and others like mfunk and HitchcockLang — who, by the way, should not be intimidated about posting critical comments here at all, based on that thoughtful and insightful post) incorporate the film's epilogue into your interpretation. It would be easy to read that as von Trier finally literalizing what can before then be easily written off as a toxic stew of grief and hatred within two specific characters; maybe that's just provocation on his part, but I've gone back and forth on how to take that teeming horde of faceless women since I saw it.

ETA: I like mfunk's incorporation of the depressive spiral into this question, which I didn't read until after I posted; still curious to hear other interpretations...

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#405 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 11:12 am

There are a few readings within the diegesis of the film, too, that support the notion that the film itself is not misogynistic. I tend to believe that those women are symbolic of women throughout history who have been taken down by patriarchal violence, cruelty, or false incrimination (a la accusations of witchcraft alluded to in Gainsbourg's research). In the immediate aftermath of her death, Dafoe's character is faced down with the reality and gravity of her work - in many ways the source of the insanity that he was trying to explain away with banal and traditional psychoanalysis. As much as he was making an effort to merely, as HitchcockLang said, micromanage his wife's emotions, there were and are much larger forces at play.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#406 Post by HitchcockLang » Wed Oct 16, 2019 11:23 am

I perhaps didn't give enough attention to the Gainsbourg character's research, again most likely distracted by my looking at genre conventions, other than to note that it seemed like a rather realistic portrayal of academia whereas something like Midsommar felt a bit more like parody. It did strike a rather personal chord with my wife and I though when Gainsbourg's character admits to abandoning her thesis. My wife also abandoned a thesis project on circadian rhythms in chickens which led to a bit of an academic crisis for her (but it all worked out for the best in the end). I also had a vivid trauma in which one of my wife's chickens (which she had received special permission to give away to farmers when her harmless research concluded) was born with a deformity which prevented it from eating or drinking. Her thesis advisor told her she had to euthanize the chicken and when she asked how, he said, "A pair of sharp scissors." My wife was unable to bring herself to do this and so I stepped in to do it for her, and it was one of the most difficult and haunting things I've ever had to do (and certainly far removed from the kind of dull work I had done on my own thesis on William Faulkner) even though it was for the best. This was further echoed for me in the images of an infant bird falling from a tree and Dafoe's repeated bashing of the bird that was giving away his location while he was hiding from his wife. I don't know why I felt the need to share this personal anecdote but it is a very specific way in which the film resonated with both of us and perhaps also a cause for me to gloss over the importance her research plays in the plot of the film.

To DarkImbecile's point, the facelessness was something I found fascinating, particularly in the early minutes of the film before I had kind of turned against it. I was intrigued by the almost experimental quality when the other grievers at the funeral procession had blurred out faces to signify their relative unimportance to the story, to the married couple's grief, etc. I must say by the time of the epilogue, I was so thoroughly shaken by the last half hour that I was finding it more difficult to develop cogent interpretations of what was on screen. Also, for whatever reason, when watching the film I had misread the faceless apparitions at the end as children and didn't realize they were women until reading about the film later. Certainly, it is difficult for me not to view it now as indicative of Dafoe's character's own misogyny (regardless of whether the film itself is misogynistic or not--I appreciate and am swayed by domino's reply above, but I think my wife was more struck by the unbalanced way in which the male vs the female character cope with or are unable to cope with grief, and I still think really neither of them is able to healthily deal with their grief; they just both exhibit very different unhealthy tendencies).

But the faceless women, ghost-like, almost like negative forces if viewing through the prism of remixing horror genre conventions (similarly to mfunk's view of Gainsbourg as the "villain"), swarm sluggishly, unthreateningly and void of identity around a Dafoe who seems content, almost vindicated, after killing the wife he could not control with his psychology now in his serene walk through the nature that terrorized Gainbourg throughout the film. I would tend to view that as Dafoe's character feeling as though he has triumphed over women, though I wouldn't say this is necessarily something Trier is portraying positively or as an endorsement.

EDIT: Though I find mfunk's interpretation just above to be pretty satisfying as well now that I see it.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#407 Post by DarkImbecile » Wed Oct 16, 2019 11:39 am

That certainly is an eerily resonant anecdote on more than one level, HL!

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#408 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Oct 16, 2019 12:01 pm

This is a wonderful discussion so far, and I agree with a lot of what's been said. I always looked at the film as more metaphorical for inner-parts psychological analysis, with Charlotte Gainsbourg acting as an emotional part, and Dafoe as the logical, analytical part within a person. Of course each person in a relationship can embrace one of these qualities more than the other, so I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is no story here, but as an allegory for von Trier's own depression it makes sense. Gainsbourg suffers from depression (and as mfunk pointed out, it's a terrific and accurate presentation of the process), amplified by the action in the opening scene where her already-present depression and associated apathy resulted in the death of her child, a part of her, and perhaps the only light left inside a darkened vessel. The spiral of self-destruction that results from this weight disrupts her emotional core so much that it becomes impossible for any amount of will to allow her to emerge from a pit of despair. Dafoe, like many partners in a relationship, tries to "save" her, but this is also a good example of the analytic parts within us shaming the depressive ones, creating dissonance within that requires validation and understanding to actually help the depression loosen its grasp from the psyche. I believe that resigning the role of the depression, and von Trier, to the female is possibly to twist the power dynamics but also to metaphorically assign a more deep-rooted value to the frightening power of depression, and it's resulting emotional and cognitive dissonance, as the notion of a mother intentionally allowing her child to die, or rather feeling unable to overcome her mental state to prevent it, is more dramatic than that of a father doing the same, simply from the ingrained biological drive in the cerebellum, the id impulses of the woman compared to the man throughout history to protect the children at all costs (at least in psychoanalysis). I read the ending as a reminder that, even if logic or analysis fights emotion and seemingly wins, that it cannot "overcome" the strength of mental health issues. The faceless women represent the hidden emotional parts that will creep back in regardless of futile efforts to repress or fight them. They are old parts (hence the clothing), much older and deep-rooted than the logical ones within a person, and faceless due to the unknowable natures of them. This film appears to be the ultimate surrender of von Trier (as he's hinted at in interviews, is his view on the futility of overcoming or treating his own mental health issues) and admission to having tried and failed to grapple with his own depression. I think von Trier wishes that the part of Dafoe could win, or at least engage in a dialogue with Gainsbourg that could give him some peace, but he understands that he is not equipped to win with the tools at his disposal and ultimately feels more empathy - but also fear- towards her character, and that part of him, as tragic and misunderstood on one hand, and terrifying and unpredictable on the other.

I love everybody's thoughts in this thread. Truly a dense film to pick apart!

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#409 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 12:49 pm

therewillbeblus wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 12:01 pm
The faceless women represent the hidden emotional parts that will creep back in regardless of futile efforts to repress or fight them. They are old parts (hence the clothing), much older and deep-rooted than the logical ones within a person, and faceless due to the unknowable natures of them.
Another fascinating reading of the ending that doesn't trade in the misogynist idea (or mis-reading attempting to accuse the film of misogyny) that these are evil women coming to avenge Gainsbourg and/or kill Dafoe

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#410 Post by domino harvey » Wed Oct 16, 2019 1:04 pm

I always took the ending to be a cosmic release resulting from Gainsbourg's death, something of a cleansing of memory now that the one dredging all the details up has passed. Kind of a variation of how ghosts are said to haunt a site because they have unfinished business, only here they were conjured and trapped in the cursed study of violence against women? It may also be worth thinking of the ending metaphorically in alignment with Von Trier's initial theme for the film that he scrapped after it leaked to the media: that nature isn't inherently neutral but is rather evil-- perhaps these manifestations are a release of negative human energy captured over the years, if we want to get full-on woo. But given the nightmare logic of the entire back half of the film, I honestly never really gave it much thought beyond that it felt appropriate, whatever that means!

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#411 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 3:08 pm

Anyway, since I wrote about von Trier's own experience with depression and anxiety as it relates to Gainsbourg's character here, the lyrics to one of David Berman's final songs (written about his experience with cognitive behavioral therapy (the form of therapy that Dafoe's character trades in, and that von Trier was undergoing around the time he wrote this film)) have been rattling around in my head. So rather than just keep them to myself, I'll share some of them here:

Storyline Fever wrote:On occasion, we all do battle with motivational paralysis
Unable to perform some simple task
Trapped at the stage of analysis
Thoughts of the shortness of life may beget
Bouts of shortness of breath in your chest
Doubts about the worth of the nights you got left
Crowding out all but fear and regret
...
You got storyline fever, storyline flu
Apparently impairing your point of view
It's making horseshit sound true to you
Now it’s impacting how you're acting too
...
But you got to find a way to make it work
'Cause defeat is where your demons lurk
When you're seller and commodity
You gotta sell yourself immodestly
Turn your pedestal into a carving board
If that's what the audience is starving for

In this case, "acting" is neglect and abuse of your young son and torture and attempted murder of your obnoxious husband. Or conversely, writing Antichrist. Fun!

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#412 Post by Big Ben » Wed Oct 16, 2019 3:10 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 12:49 pm
therewillbeblus wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 12:01 pm
The faceless women represent the hidden emotional parts that will creep back in regardless of futile efforts to repress or fight them. They are old parts (hence the clothing), much older and deep-rooted than the logical ones within a person, and faceless due to the unknowable natures of them.
Another fascinating reading of the ending that doesn't trade in the misogynist idea (or mis-reading attempting to accuse the film of misogyny) that these are evil women coming to avenge Gainsbourg and/or kill Dafoe
When I first saw Antichrist I also interpreted the ending this way. That these were any number of faceless women coming to revenge or kill "He" for his transgressions against She (The names actually given to the characters.).

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#413 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 3:11 pm

For the record, I can't do the He or She thing without confusing the shit out of myself.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#414 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Oct 16, 2019 8:01 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:
Wed Oct 16, 2019 3:08 pm
Anyway, since I wrote about von Trier's own experience with depression and anxiety as it relates to Gainsbourg's character here, the lyrics to one of David Berman's final songs (written about his experience with cognitive behavioral therapy (the form of therapy that Dafoe's character trades in, and that von Trier was undergoing around the time he wrote this film)) have been rattling around in my head. So rather than just keep them to myself, I'll share some of them here:

Storyline Fever wrote:On occasion, we all do battle with motivational paralysis
Unable to perform some simple task
Trapped at the stage of analysis
Thoughts of the shortness of life may beget
Bouts of shortness of breath in your chest
Doubts about the worth of the nights you got left
Crowding out all but fear and regret
...
You got storyline fever, storyline flu
Apparently impairing your point of view
It's making horseshit sound true to you
Now it’s impacting how you're acting too
...
But you got to find a way to make it work
'Cause defeat is where your demons lurk
When you're seller and commodity
You gotta sell yourself immodestly
Turn your pedestal into a carving board
If that's what the audience is starving for

In this case, "acting" is neglect and abuse of your young son and torture and attempted murder of your obnoxious husband. Or conversely, writing Antichrist. Fun!
This is very interesting, though not too surprising, that von Trier was being treated with CBT. It’s arguably the most common therapeutic modality practiced (by Western cultures) because it’s based around measurable targets, is evidence-based, easy to track data, and the analytical parts of us (and insurance companies) love that! The problems with CBT (and I’ll preface this by saying I practice this modality myself, every day, though I prefer to mix it with other modalities that are more client-centered) is that it is by nature objective. The idea of pure CBT is that the therapist is the expert, sessions are structured according to the therapist’s preference, and therapy is time-limited and goal-oriented. There isn’t as much time allotted to exploring the client’s perspective, while other forms of therapy (solution-focused, narrative, internal family systems, etc.) come from the angle that clients are the experts on themselves, and the therapist’s job is to help elicit the answers the client already possesses somewhere within them, by guiding them and not solving their problems.

It’s no surprise that Dafoe is a CBT therapist, since he’s entirely analytical, cold, focused on results, and acting as the expert on She, as well as trying to solve her problem. Now, I have no idea if von Trier saw a rigid CBT therapist, but I could imagine that if he did, this may have been his experience. Also, with the weight leaning heavily on results, from an IFS perspective (as I was taking in my initial reading above) if von Trier, or She, does not get validation from the depressed side, or enough space to process their own needs, it’s no surprise that von Trier would feel hopeless having gone through an experience of having this depressed part invalidated. He’s made a film about the necessity of subjective therapy without even knowing it.


[Note: I know I said this above, but I am in no way knocking CBT as a practice. It’s incredibly useful, has and will continue to help many people - myself included, but like any pigeonholed modality, their are flaws inherent in not utilizing the interventions eclectically. While I personally know therapists who practice rigid CBT and are very client-centered, I also draw my experience of this categorization based on how one learns about the modality’s conceptualization and mission. Also, if you’ve ever watched videos or read books by Aaron Beck, the creator of CBT, or his daughter and son (who I had as a prof in school), you’d know that I’m not making these emotionally reserved attitudes up, which is in no way a negative reflection on their progressional talents nor an indication that they are Willem Dafoe lookalikes who gaslight women for a living!]

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#415 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Oct 16, 2019 9:42 pm

That was a very interesting read, therewillbeblus! The triangle stuff, I know from experience as well, is right out of CBT. They fuckin' love triangles.

I feel like we're all just sort of stretching the opening act before Sausage and Donald Brown weigh in with their takes on the film, which will be fascinating for two very different reasons.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#416 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Oct 16, 2019 10:00 pm

But how can anyone connect thoughts, feelings, and behavior without the visual aid of a triangle?

In all seriousness they’re super helpful for the kids I work with, but man, my office has enough triangles on the walls to restore von Trier to sanity.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#417 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Oct 19, 2019 8:38 pm

Well this was something.

Funny that I've heard it batted about that the film's misogynist, since, on one level anyway, I think She is a projection of von Trier himself. It's hard not to see the movie as a projection of someone who's just come out of therapy following a breakdown and is still processing the raw emotions of that experience. There's a lot of anger and lashing out, a twin desire to give in to control, containment, and serenity/health, on the one end, and to unleash all the pain, despair, and emotional fire banging around inside on the other. It has all the force of someone who's just come out of a long process of being told what they're feeling, what things mean, how they ought to act, and who's so sick of everything that they want to throw it all back in the therapist's face, to discover ignorance under the calm, helping facade and shove it back down their throat, to give in to the abyss. It's a juvenile impulse, but an honest one. A common one, too. It's also shadowed by an impulse to tame and control the other in return, hobbling them so they can't leave you, demanding declarations of love but scrutinizing those declarations for the falsehood you fear to find in them. Many patients confuse their therapist for a friend or even a potential lover; von Trier inverts it slightly, with a wife who wants her therapist to be her husband because that's the healthy role. Persisting in being a therapist rather than a partner is the negative here. The final desire is to cut out the seat of pleasure and be destroyed by the hands that presumed to save you.

von Trier aligns mental illness with the primal force of nature: something chaotic, unstructured, and given to intense displays of life and death. This is one reason the film is called Antichrist and associates the word with She: nature is placed in opposition to structured religion. Her husband is a therapist, but he may as well be a priest with his trinities, his hierarchical organizations, and his insistence on explanation and control. But then von Trier makes the odd choice at the end to align nature with a trinity of its own, one attended by an obscure ritual.

I suspect the film doesn't cohere. I get the sense the layers of symbolism neither resolve nor fracture in a meaningful way. What's left is the intensity of the emotions behind the film, which have a forceful honesty to them.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#418 Post by mfunk9786 » Sat Oct 19, 2019 11:56 pm

What did you think from just a craft angle? The cinematography, the horror elements? As a watchable film not actively being analyzed? Did it work for you from that perspective or fall short?

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#419 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun Oct 20, 2019 6:29 am

I had the same reaction watching this as the small handful of other von Trier films I've seen: it always held my attention and I watched whatever was onscreen with interest. But there was always a distance between me and the screen; I remained aware of my attention and the fact that I was watching a movie. Hence you got a very analytical reaction from me: I was very aware of von Trier's emotions while watching the movie, but not always feeling any myself. I don't offer this as a criticism. Von Trier just seems to have this effect on me.

From a technical stand point, the film of course is excellent. Oddly, I think the most disturbing shot for me wasn't any of the obvious violent moments, but this early shot of the woods that collapses the space until it looks like some grotesque surrealist painting, with the white trunks at odd angles. I found it unpleasant to look at. There was also something innately disturbing about the discovery that She'd hobbled her son by such banal means as putting his shoes on wrong. What is it about minor errors in basic decorum that provokes such instinctive repulsion?

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#420 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Oct 20, 2019 11:17 am

You're not alone in that last point, as it's what turns my stomach upside down. You pose a fascinating psychological question there. Another more gory example of this is the blood red ejaculation - something banal enough to occur in a male's life thousands of times, but thrown into utter disarray in how we interpret the sight of it by a change in pigment.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#421 Post by aox » Sun Oct 20, 2019 11:35 am

I always found this to be a "great" double feature with Aronofsky's Mother (which is how I made my SO watch them). Given the material, and the religious allegories presenting the mythologies of Judaeo-Christianity, these films form an interesting juxtaposition in their examination and approach. With Antichrist, we get the male (God) perspective, and with Mother we get the female (mother nature) perspective of the same story. I don't prefer one over the other, but I do find it fascinating how this material is handled very differently in both films. As a nature lover and atheist, I side with Mother.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#422 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Oct 20, 2019 12:08 pm

aox wrote:
Sun Oct 20, 2019 11:35 am
I always found this to be a "great" double feature with Aronofsky's Mother (which is how I made my SO watch them). Given the material, and the religious allegories presenting the mythologies of Judaeo-Christianity, these films form an interesting juxtaposition in their examination and approach. With Antichrist, we get the male (God) perspective, and with Mother we get the female (mother nature) perspective of the same story. I don't prefer one over the other, but I do find it fascinating how this material is handled very differently in both films. As a nature lover and atheist, I side with Mother.
I'm not so sure I see what you mean regarding the perspective of Antichrist, although of course your reading of mother! is spot on in my view.

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Re: Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

#423 Post by black&huge » Thu Oct 24, 2019 11:38 pm

I think the big thing with this film that many would brush off as misogyny as it builds to the climax has to do with Trier's portrayal of these events. It's nothing wrong imo and it's not uncreative but considering his depression/alcoholism was at his most severe at the time of making this film we are really witnessing a simultaneous self destruction of the artist conveyed through their art. It's nothing new but I could never shake that thought from my head whenever I watched this.

Along with the other two entries in the Depression trilogy it's interesting how Trier really tried to portray multiple aspects of behaviors stemming from depression but some people absolutely would not give it a chance. He didn't need to find some new way to do it, the films are pretty straightforward but I am glad they came about in this stage of his career which I'll refer to as "fancy Trier" because the very serious topic he's undertaking while trying (I think?) to deal with it are accompanied by strong, HD, digitally robust and convincing visuals and this is where a lot of the strength comes from.

If Antichrist was a Dogme 95 film it wouldn't have worked. Part of the trick is that we're getting these extremely clean and shiny images of a mental condition that makes many people act out in ways they don't understand/can't even clearly see. When we see how extreme the film gets it only seems misogynistic/so over the top because we were thrown by the presentation. Trier isn't finding the beauty in it he's almost striking down how we try to glamourize pretty much anything in order to cope/understand it when we should really face that some things are as ugly as they appear and in their nature. Does Trier conclude this? Well, not quite because there is no conclusion. It's "just there" and some people will react to it more wildly than others but it affects everyone, even the ones trying to (or think they're trying to) help.

To supplement that I seem to recall Antichrist to some degree is unfinished since Trier's mental state was tearing down at the time. I'm not sure of that meant in the script phase or filming but it inadvertently worked for the movie. Wherever he stitched together to conclude the film it certainly feels complete but if his intention was to understand himself through the process of making the film he may have finally accepted there is no such way.

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