I went to see Lars von Trier’s Antichrist a few days ago. Of the reviews I’ve read, Brent Plate’s captures the way in which the film’s images persist in haunting one’s consciousness. Plate, aptly I think, compares the film to Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, the film that Adolf Hitler called “an incomparable glorification of the power and beauty of our Movement”:
“Like Riefenstahl’s Triumph, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is a beautiful film. Ultra slow-motion flashbacks and intercuts reminiscent of a Bill Viola video; high-contrast, black-and-white lovemaking; textured, hypnotic, surrealistic scenes of humans intertwined with nature; and extreme close-ups of human eyes, bamboo in a glass vase, and unkempt hair (the camera sporadically zooms in on the backs of heads a la Hitchcock’s Vertigo) all make for a film that is impossible to get out of one’s sensual body. Antichrist’s images and sounds have infiltrated my dreamscape for the two weeks now since I saw it at the New York Film Festival, along with about 700 other attendees. I wish I had their phone numbers; even the disgusted dozens who walked out halfway through. I’d like to call them at 3:00 a.m. and ask what they are thinking about, what they are dreaming, if indeed they are sleeping. I need some therapy. This is one messed-up film.”
I don’t need therapy from seeing the film, but I am convinced that von Trier needs it. It’s a beautiful film, cinematically masterful at times, but it goes off the rails. Whether it’s misogynist (probably, though one could legitimately debate that), misanthropic (no doubt), just troubled (it certainly is that), or merely pranksterish and provocateurial (and self-promoting to the max), von Trier plays, enchantingly, with the power of images in a way that only those who don’t believe in the power of images can fail to be perturbed by. Where Coppolla’s/Conrad’s/Colonel Kurtz’s “The horror, the horror…” was motivated by something tangible (the Vietnam War, the Belgian Congo, war itself, the murky depths humans sometimes descend to), von Trier’s war is a war at the heart of nature, humanity, everything, and it is a war we lost a long time ago.
Slyly dedicating the film to Andrei Tarkovsky, von Trier is Tarkovsky’s demon brother, his evil genius twin. Where Tarkovsky believes in hope against hope, salvation in a universe that sometimes seems stacked against it (though it’s really us who stack it, and in which ultimately time, nature, and beauty redeem us), von Trier’s is a hopeless beauty, a laugh in the face of cruel darkness, which happens to be a cruel darkness he imagines into existence for us and lets us wander around in at our own risk. He’s too good a filmmaker for us to watch as he drives off a cliff; someone ought to rein him in.