There are many films on this site that are quite divisive, but I’m not sure if any two are more divisive than Lars von Trier’s Antichrist and Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession.
There have been strong arguments made in favor of both films and many strong argument disparaging both films.
So, what say you all in in the ultimate battle of films celebrating the bat-shit crazy places marriage can take couples.
(Happy Birthday House, this one’s for you)
Aww, you shouldn’t have. ;)
There’s been a lot said about these two films on this site but I don’t think they’ve really been comparatively analyzed yet. To get the ball rolling (posted from another thread):
Antichrist takes great pains to show a marriage (and even a world) where nothing is right—everything from nature to the relationship to sex—everything is the opposite of what would be considered as good (hence the title).
Possession shows the dissolution of a marriage through different devices but it’s still saying some of the same things. I’ll have to think a bit more about this.
I’ve seen Antichrist three times and Possession only twice, but it’s coming to Dallas in a couple of weeks and if I can make the screening I will be watching it with this thread in mind.
Hey, please close this troll thread – just kidding, Uli!
I’m an Antichrist guy more than a Possession guy. Both are about chicks who go crazy and try to destroy their husbands in the process. And you can certainly see why the gals are down on their mates. Both films deal with the effect on a relationship of other-worldly forces. Both use way over-the-top performances and images that challenge the viewer. Both are films that gain from a second or repeated viewing, as both are nuanced, but with their shock-value elements in place to keep the viewer on his or her toes.
I’ll comment later when the thread gets going (it’s late here).
Sure you can.
I myself have seen Antichrist three times and never seen Possession (which I need to fix soon) The first time I saw Antichrist I wasn’t very fond of it. Being a huge Lars fan, I thought this film was going to be another master piece. After watching it the first time I didn’t get it, I didn’t understand why so much shock value? Why tell a story like this? I went back to watching it, and I think now I have a better understanding. I now see Antichrist in more comedic way. I can understand how people would react to such a thing, but the shock value in the film is so absurd that I found myself laughing. von Trier said himself that he was in a depress era when making this film, so I got that he used the image of women as being the root of evil in humors way. At times when one is depress or in any other pain we tend to go the opposite direction to distract our self. My opinion is that he made the film to express his pain but in a fun and a weird humorous way.
i haven’t seen antichrist (and from everything i’ve heard i don’t want to) but i have seen possession and have a similar reaction as above (it makes me laugh)
Now, can one accept the absurdities of one film, yet reject the absurdities of the other?
I personally found Possession to be vastly more absurd and unintentionally funny, where I found Antichrist to be greatly less absurd.
For me, the acting in Possession was not just over-the-top, but over-the-top in a “why are in even acting in this film, I’m going to fire my agent” way — though still less over-the-top than most Nicolas Cage performances — whereas I felt the performances in Antichrist were having strong and grounded.
I do hope Possession is really a comedy.
I find Possession to be a far better film; so yes, I “reject the absurdities” of one film and embrace the other’s. Will expand on this later.
Uli said, So, what say you all in in the ultimate battle of films celebrating the bat-shit crazy places marriage can take couples.
FWIW, I have different understanding of Antichrist. I don’t think it’s about marriage. I see the film as an (sarcastic) expression of frustration directed at von Trier’s therapist and, mabye more broadly, his therapist’s cognitive-based approach. The men represents this approach (which we can also view as Apollonian). The woman represents, the Dionysian or Chthonic. Here’s how I would translate the film if von Trier was expressing how he felt: “You can talk about cognitive theory and how there’s no such thing as obessesion, dark impulses or even evil, but you’re totally wrong. These forces are simply cognitive phenomena or they can’t easily dealt with by cognitive manipulation. They’re real, powerful and you’re deceiving yourself if you think the mind can beat these forces. You may think it can—and it may hold them at bay (He strangling She), but it’ll come back and overwhelm you (the coven of witches surrounding He at the end). Here’s what I think of your theory: (insert obscene finger gesture).”
If this reading is valid, the film is a creative, sarcastic and sometimes amusing expression of von Trier’s feelings.
Possession is a lot better, IMO, because it is so over the top. It’s got a pretty cool tone of comic disgust. I thought the performances in Antichrist were too “grounded,” and they just seemed really “actor-y,” you know what I mean? If they had been more over-the-top it would have been far more enjoyable. Also, I liked the cinematography of Posession a lot better.
I felt the cinematography of Antichrist was its greatest attribute. The techniques used were perfectly executed and a wonder to watch. While it may have been slightly heavy-handed — you know, the super slow motion sex scene — the lighting was beautiful, the camera movements were precise. Antichrist is a technically brilliant film, though the story is a great deal weaker than the technical achievements.
With that said, the cinematography in Possession may represent the chaotic story being told better than Antichrist does.
Do you guys think Possession is really an over-the-top look at the dissolution of a marriage?? I’m still struggling with my feelings about the film and this is one of my biggest questions (and I’ve read threads and reviews of the film on here and still have this question) .
Although both films use the horror genre tropes of scenes done for shock-value and graphic effect, I think Possession is intended more as a parody of the genre. Both directors were dealing with difficult situations in their own lives, so both films have an autobiographical aspect and both are meant to have a cathartic effect – at least for the director. That being said, I think Antichrist is the more serious-minded of the two.
We could argue and discuss the meaning of the various storyline chapters in Antichrist, the symbolism of the animals, the ‘torture’ scenes, the therapy, the witch motif, etc. ad nauseum. This has already been done on several threads on Mubi – which anyone can look up. My own thinking is closest to Landon’s analysis in I’m Seeing This in About an Hour
I see Antichrist as a sort of Jungian send-up, where the intent of the graphic ‘horror’ is to turn the tables on the cool, analytical psychoanalysis of the Dafoe character. If the world at its most natural, its most primitive, represents the chaotic, then there is no escape possible when one goes over to the ‘dark side’ as represented by Gainsbourg’s character. She has embraced the evil around her – and become the witch she was researching. She has gained a supernatural awareness of the forces of evil surrounding her and her fate at the hands of the ‘three beggars’. All very arcane and all very seriously done, as the final scene reveals when Dafoe wanders among the disembodied, disenfranchised women now come to reclaim their turf – to Handel’s mournful strains. (Or so this could be a possible reading).
Possession on the other hand is a more Freudian, tongue-in-cheek affair dealing with sexual frustration and sexual infidelity. Adjani takes first a human lover and then a demon one to get back at her absent husband. However, too many of the scenes verge on farce with all the actors hamming it up most effectively.
I think the acting in both films is perfectly adequate to the director’s differing conceptions. Possession has grown in my own appraisal upon a re-watch. I now see the episodes I thought as strained or rather poorly conceived as done for satirical effect. It also helps to relate Possession to other Zulawski films, where he uses much of the same claustrophobic, frenetic, and hysterical atmosphere as well as dopplegangers, bizarre happenings, circling around of plot – to create a rich mix.
Antichrist could also be seen as Lars von Trier ultimate post-modern shocker, with his usual take on the woman as victim reversed so the woman become the agent of power over the man as victim. It’s a weird turn around for von Trier and his strangest film to date. Like Uli, I find it also his most beautifully and aesthetically shot. For me, it is his most mysterious and richest in terms of allegory/symbolism.
I respect both films, but do admit that seen just in terms of the surface, not doing the hard analytical bit, both can be seen (as they are by many posters here) as bat-shit crazy. But going crazy is sometimes the best therapy if one can emerge a bit stronger and wiser out of the chaos – and do no lasting damage to others. I think if we follow these two talented, obsessive, individualistic directors down this particular rabbit-hole, we can come up with a heady mix of rather mind-boggling stylistics. Embrace the horror, the horror – or just walk away if it doesn’t work for you.
Both films seem to utilize its excess appropriate to the respective themes as well as directorial style.
Rather than a general examination of the dissolution of marriage, I find that Possession is more specifically a dissection of the dispositions and concordant reactions to that dissolution. You never really get direct insight to what causes dissolution. You get all the resultant interior conflicts, the self –denial, suspicion, accusations, self-convincing, and absurd subjective rationales. One can argue that that is what the creature represents—an exaggerated manifestation of infidelity itself, of Sam Neill’s suspicion itself. This is why Heinz Bennent acts so ridiculously eccentrically, and always physically overpowers him—his degrading perception of the “other guy.” This is why there exists a doppelganger of Isabelle Adjani—his desperate attempt to detach himself emotionally but it regresses into him just seeing her all over again.
Of course all that is my personal dominant interpretation. The creature (and the characters’ descent into madness) can also represent the actual relationship (and its dissolution) itself. The progression of the relationship, the schism between hopeful expectation in the genesis to the destructive reality in the dissolution, and then the unpredictable recovery and reconstruction, potentially leading toward another repetition(?). Given that, directly relative to this idea, all the characters would be acting appropriately: ridiculously over-the-top and unrealistically. Thus the film holistically also works as a phenomenological experience paralleling us with these characters. Even the formal elements reflect such, e.g. the camera consistently in motion, etc. But then again, this is also Zulawski’s style. All of his films have a hyper kinetic energy with over-the-top performances that invert (or coalesce) interior psychology with outward countenance.
Antichrist attempts to do such, rather admirably in my opinion, with heavy allegory, symbolism all over the place. Basically (and arbitrarily) more artful. It trades in the subjectivity with representation of the Barthes-ian degree. And thus, Von Trier’s excess lies in that, and all the formal elements again cater to such, which also happens to align towards his directorial style.
EDIT: Ah Oxymoron beat me to it. Better stated, especially on Antichrist.
Ruby i haven’t seen antichrist (and from everything i’ve heard i don’t want to)
I suggest you DO give it a try, Ruby. I was a bit sceptical of watching it from descriptions myself, but found the so-called ‘graphic’ scenes highly stylized, so much so, they ceased to have a shocking effect. I personally found Breaking the Waves a more disturbing film – just because it is more naturalistic. Antichrist is too brilliant of an addition to von Trier’s filmography to be missed.
That being said, I am still skeptical of showing the film to my own wife, as she is highly sensitive to certain scenes in films – more so than I am. I want to show it to her to have her give me her take on the film’s symbolism, as she is a far better reader of these types of things than I am (she is an English major, poetry reader, has read lots of Jung and books on symbolism, etc.). She helped me with Tarkovsky and now I need her help with Antichrist. In general, she likes von Trier, and really liked his latest Melancholia. So, maybe I’ll get the courage up to show it to her – and you’ll try it for yourself.
I really enjoyed your take on the films, Eugenehl, esp. your explanation of Zulawski’s style in Possession.
She has embraced the evil around her…
Well, I would say “He” forces her to do this—thinking there’s no such thing as evil, while arrogantly overestimating his skills as a therapist (and the powers of cognition). They have a conversation about evil and obessesion where he vehemently denies these things, while she remains unconvinced. But she listens to him and I think she goes crazy. Why? Because of He’s arrogance and faith in his therapeutic approach. He messes with the bull (although he denies the bull’s existence) and he gets the horns.
I think that in the case of both films, the women have emotional breakdowns; in Antichrist, the breakdown actually occurred offscreen when she was at Eden away from her husband, I feel that we learn this when he is going over her notes and sees the changes in the handwriting. She was already cracked by the time their son died. While with Possession, I feel we more more the breakdown happening before us.
Sam Neill reacts in an emotional way, while Dafoe reacts in a clinical way.
all right oxy i’ll give it a try just for u since it’s still streaming on netflix. i see someone bumped another thread where i promised to watch it months ago :P i’ll try to do better
Make it a double feature and report back, I respect your opinion, and know you don’t blow smoke
Jazz – Because of He’s arrogance and faith in his therapeutic approach. He messes with the bull (although he denies the bull’s existence) and he gets the horns.
Agree. The clinical, logical, but very short-sighted approach of Dafoe’s character’s therapy does his wife absolutely no good. She is very far down a path of depression and eventual madness which he is totally blind to see. The Eden he takes her to for her to recover her sanity, then becomes a hell where she – and then he – loses her (then his) sanity. It is possible to then see many of the later elements in the film (the fox, the crow, the mutilation) as grimly imagined aspects of this shared insanity. In this type of reading, the film becomes a graphic picture of a journey into insanity and hallucination – not a realistic one.
It is, of course, possible to recognize the same descent into sanity and complete break from reality in the major characters’ breakdown in Possession, with the majority of the scenes then being hallucinations. However, this would take away from the intention of both directors, I believe, who are giving us a bit of a supernatural horror show, where the psychological breakdown evident in both films is but the stimulus for the descent into a heightened psychotic realm.
Good luck with that, Ruby. Let us know how it goes. If one concentrates on the possible meaning of the scenes and crazy goings-on in Antichrist, over the actual images, I think their potential for shock-value are greatly lessened. The music at the beginning and end of the film are key to von Trier trying (perhaps foolishly) to establish a meditative mood inspite of the madness and chaos in some of the more over-the-top scenes. If you’ve seen other von Trier, it’s easy to see how he likes to toy with the audience in this way – going from sublime to totally off-the-wall as the scenes shift. He must be one of the most manipulative directors going. But in this instant, it did work for me.
Ruby, did you watch Antichrist yet?
still an interesting topic
Indeed, isolating what makes one movie ‘work’ and the other not, for me, would be quite a challenge. I’ll have to think about it for a while but for what it’s worth, other than their Mubi divisiveness, to be honest I don’t see all that many similarities between them.
I mean they’re both crazy and overwrought and deal with marital conflict, but so is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Anybody want to justify comparing that movie to these? Stylistically, structurally, and emotionally, Antichrist and Possession are pretty much nothing similar.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? doesn’t go to the extreme that the other two go to, and keeps the film more based in “reality.”
It is the “horror” aspects of Antichrist and Possession that make them the perfect films to compare and contrasts.
I’ve seen both films, and I definitely prefer Possession.
Zyria, why do you prefer Possession? Do you feel the films’ depictions of rising insanity are accurate or overblown?
i’m more into Zulawski’s way to experience hysterical breakdown on the films…Possession is not about who is good and who is bad. It’s about how these people become the prey of their own monster. How they become “possessed” by their own evil.
Well, isn’t Dafoe character possessed by his supposed knowledge of psychiatry, so much so that he has become arrogant with his learned ways, could not in that sense, knowledge be considered his own evil? While at the same time Gainsbroug could be possessed by her breakdown.