Having seen Lars von Trier’s Antichrist – and having caught Bryan Appleyard’s
review polemic of disgust – some weeks back, it is the latter that sticks most in my craw, slotting, as I suppose I do, into his category of art-house dimwit. Always a big flag, that, to a polemic, rather than a review: ‘Because I hate it, you must be an idiot for not feeling likewise’. Humph!
Rather than review the film, Appleyard decides instead to tell us why he considers we shouldn’t want to see it. And he then, like a bad overlong trailer, largely spoils things (as is his intent) for the would-be viewer by confusing a plot summary with a paragraphed list of those scenes he considers offensive, and that we need to be warned against.
A review, whilst inevitably coloured by the reviewer, should at least attempt some balance, and not just provide platform for a tirade against a director you despise and who happens to have produced a work that offends your sensibilities. Appleyard hasn’t a good thing to say about von Trier or this film. Well, I have. The performances of its two protagonists are compelling; the bond between them, and their grief, are palpable, with Charlotte Gainsbourg particularly heart wrenching. In a desperate attempt to halt her slide into irrecoverable despair, and get their life back on track, they relocate to their retreat in the woods. However, it is here, in the unsympathetic, indifferent wilderness, that she becomes more unhinged, a process, we gradually learn, already underway during a previous sojourn preceding the tragedy that commences the film. Things subsequently become nasty – horrifically so.
Yet, despite the horror that unfolds, this film is also often strikingly beautiful. Appleyard bats this off with an accusation of ‘plagiarised cinematography.’ (What on earth does that mean?) However, von Trier looks beneath the beauty to show us the ugly underbelly of nature (’Satan’s church’). I wonder whether this would bother so much, if it weren’t for the religious references. If it was merely a graphic horror flick, would it provoke the same furore?
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not blowing wind up von Trier; he is seemingly an arrogant ass, and I can appreciate why people might not like some of his (at times arguably brilliant) work. And I’m not recommending that you see this film: that’s up to you (err, that’s the point). I have seen it, and I can tell you some of it is very difficult to watch indeed – particularly one well publicised scene, which I wouldn’t normally discuss here, because: 1. It’s a new film, and it diminishes its impact to know beforehand what’s going to happen, and; 2. It’s not a detail I would particularly want to dwell on. However, this film’s immediate notoriety is much to do with pre-knowledge of the particular scene in question (and of which you will already be aware if you’ve been interested in the news of this film’s release).
The thing is, she is so guilt-stricken, and so scared her husband is going to leave her, she moves both to punish, and to disable their capacity to enjoy the act in which they were partaking when the tragedy occurred. She removes from her own body the only organ that exists (unlike art) solely for pleasure. It’s no mystery why this film has sparked controversy (I imagine von Trier welcomes it; after all, controversy promotes). But I am surprised it hasn’t provoked a wider discussion (beyond the misogynistic allegorising of woman as responsible for all sin, which is, after all, not von Trier’s invention). It’s bemusing how we can get so hysterical about a graphic (arguably unnecessary) scene in a fictional film – when ample warning is given as to what is about to happen, such that one can decide, as my companion did, to avert one’s gaze – and yet, despite our awareness, don’t decry the fact that the surgical procedure in question is actually in common occurrence in some parts of the world; practiced on women (no, girls) by cultures wherein barbarity holds sway over their human rights. Yet, this is rarely discussed openly, because, we might presume, to do so could offend. We protest (sometimes justifiably) in column after column at the potentially harmful effects of graphic scenes of fictional violence; but protest virtually nought at the actual harm perpetrated on millions of children in the real world.
If you want your art to show man and beast in cuddly, predator- and parasite-free anthropomorphised harmony, then this film is not for you. But clapperclawing a director’s self-indulgence – as though a columnist’s/blogger’s opinion-airing is not self-indulgent – pointlessly misses the point. Any artist free of commissioned dictates and mores, and who hasn’t sold their soul to tedious commercialism, is self-indulgent (von Trier is honest about this; or affects to be). Still, at least (despite being determined to hate it regardless) Appleyard deigned to actually watch the thing.