Back in May, that entry for Lars von Trier's Antichrist just went on and on and on. Covering the coverage during Cannes is always a kick, but you could OD on adrenaline with this one. Many who were there insist that no screening since that premiere could possibly measure up. As the lights went down, they were blissfully unaware of the fox. And the scissors.
Soon enough, it was nearly impossible not to have heard about those moments and more. Now that Antichrist has played throughout most of Europe, it arrives in North America, screening first in Toronto, then at the New York Film Festival on October 2 and 3 before seeing a release in theaters and on demand on October 23. Audiences know to brace themselves. "God help those who go into this movie blind," warns Kurt Halfyward at Twitch. Not likely. "Of the 400 or so films at TIFF this year, Antichrist was the first that sold out in advance," notes Roger Ebert.
"As usual with overhyped shockers, the Rite of Spring promised turns out to be closer to ominous Muzak," found Fernando F Croce when he caught it in Toronto. "Still, filled with psychosexual wounds and scored to a cacophony of growls and moans, it's a bravura jumble of concentrated bad vibes." Also in Slant, Ed Gonzalez: "The story of a horned-up couple that retreats into the woods after the death of their son so they can work out their psychological traumas, the film is Von Trier's way of having a laugh at his audience, not just his critics. But even if you're in on the joke, what's the purpose of Antichrist beyond an artist's callow flaunting of his recalcitrance?"
"Antichrist is undoubtedly a comedy," argues Joseph "Jon" Lanthier at Bright Lights After Dark, "and one of the funniest I've seen in a long, long while. Much, much funnier than Von Trier's misfire The Boss of It All. If this film was indeed intended as a solution to crippling depression, I can't imagine a better project.... Antichrist is an experiment in gnostic extremism, both a ravenous comment on and a grimacing departure from earlier Von Trier works (most notably Breaking the Waves, a similarly grim tale of disheveled distaff sacrifice), as well as something of a portrait of endurance."
Steve Garden, who saw it at the New Zealand International Film Festival, offers this in the Lumière Reader: The couple's son "is von Trier's inner child (or Id), allowed to perish (metaphor) while the two adult sides of his psyche (Ego and Superego) pursue their worldly self-centredness. The characters in von Trier's films are often avatars for his themes. Men broadly represent the severity of the world: reason, intransigence, condemnation, authority, patriarchal domination (something von Trier is at war with in his films, and no doubt within himself), while women are the locus of sacrifice, redemption, suffering, transcendence, and the battle with patriarchy. When 'He' (the rational, unemotional male side of the entity - played by Willem Dafoe) gets too close for psychological comfort, 'She' (the self-protective, emotional female side - played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) acts to destroy that threat."
"Lars Needs Women!" Best review title? Paul Matwychuk wins. "If Antichrist escapes being labelled a misogynist film, Gainsbourg's fiercely committed screen presence will be the main reason - you sense she's in control of this character in a way Von Trier isn't." And of course, she won the Prix d'interpretation feminine in Cannes.
"Cinema's leading Brechtian wouldn't seem to be the best choice for a visceral examination of real emotional pain, but Von Trier makes Antichrist about how aesthetic control is as useless as therapeutic control when it comes to dealing with nature at its wildest," writes Noel Murray. "It may be full of shit, but it's Von Trier's shit." Also at the AV Club, Scott Tobias: "I imagine Von Trier haters will have no trouble rejecting it outright (and many have), but the film presents a much tougher proposition to those who are more open to his work - partly because it's such an unhinged clearinghouse of Big Themes and partly because it's so completely sick and unnerving.... It would seem impossible for a film to be both fully in command and wholly deranged, but that's Von Trier magic in a nutshell."
"Maybe Antichrist is just a big pile of neuroses piled one atop another, with von Trier's prankster shenanigans causing little more than irritation at best and boredom at worst," suggests Jeremiah Kipp at the House Next Door. But: "It's the kind of movie where, if you plug into its fear sweat vibe, you'll wind up feeling a little less alone."
In Movieline, ST VanAirsdale offers nine first impressions and talks with Willem Dafoe.
Henrik Saltzstein interviews von Trier for Vice's Film Issue.
Melissa Anderson's interview with Gainsbourg is featured on the cover of this week's Village Voice; signandsight translates Martina Meister's interview with Gainsbourg for the Frankfurter Rundschau.
Online listening tip. For Cargo, Cristina Nord has a good long talk (in English) with von Trier.
Ok, so who is the Antichrist? The Boston Phoenix's Peter Keough asks Google.
Updates, 9/24: "It's not just the sickening violence, sexual mutilation, boogity-boogity lighting effects and other shock maneuvers that rankle," writes Glenn Kenny. "It's the intellectual incoherence, the scattershot introduction of nonsensical ideas that doesn't quite camouflage the fact that all von Trier is doing is showing a lot of behavior.... So my question for myself is, why the hell is this movie still working me over, to the point that I believe it's the main cause of my waking up in a completely shitty mood this morning?... [T]he more I think about it the more I discern some very genuine thematic affinities between Antichrist and Tarkovsky's Solaris."
Von Trier spoke to journalists in New York yesterday, and no, of course he wasn't actually there (the man won't fly). Instead, he spoke via Skype and Henry Stewart was there to take notes for the L Magazine. More from Bryce Renninger at indieWIRE.
Update, 9/25: "The most compelling defense of the film I've read is from Victor Morton, who sees it as a 'raw production of von Trier’s inner depressive state,'" writes Darren Hughes. "There's a strange and irresistible grandeur to von Trier's images - the way he warps nature with a slow pan of his camera, for example, or that signature shot of arms reaching through the knotted roots of a tree. The actual experience of watching the film is more interesting and complicated than any of its rabbit-hole provocations."
Updates, 9/29: "Over time, von Trier's fascination with the social position of women, with the indignities they suffer and the pain they endure in a sexist society, has taken the shape of a near-obsession, the director constantly finding new and more sadistic ways to showcase their suffering." Tom Hall: "Finally, with Antichrist, he's delivered his coup de grace, a film that further complicates von Trier's position while throwing everything that has come before into stark relief."
David Edelstein: "I liked the idea better when David Cronenberg did it in The Brood - when a psychiatrist's est-like exhortation to a woman 'to go all the way through' a primal trauma produced not inner peace but deformed psychotic babies that hammered people she didn't like to death.... Still, I can't hate [Antichrist], laughably overdone as it is."
"It's basically Von Trier deciding to make a Takashi Miike film," decides Brandon Harris.
Updates, 10/1: "By naming his film Antichrist, von Trier calls up not only Nietzsche's work of bad-boy philosophy," writes Elizabeth A Castelli for Artforum, "but also ready associations with the Christian apocalyptic tradition, especially the biblical book of Revelation, which likewise traffics in figurations of monstrous and murdered women. Its author, like von Trier, possesses a distinctive vision and operates under a mantle of inflated self-regard that closely resembles that of the 'best film director in the world.' The book of Revelation's author at least has the excuse of believing that his vision is actually a divine revelation, sent to him by God. By contrast, what, one is left to wonder, is Lars von Trier's excuse?"
"For all the provocative blood spilling, Antichrist at heart is a masterfully performed, exhaustible but thrilling portrait of a relationship," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "It's just hard to watch the whole thing with your eyes open, because it's so fucking gross."
More from James Hansen and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York).
Updates, 10/2: "By taking the violence and the unresolved gender conflicts of his previous films to a so-earnest-it's-silly extreme," writes Chris Wisniewski in Reverse Shot, "Antichrist has thrust its maker back into the spotlight, for better and worse. It would seem to be the clearest evidence yet of his lurid, despicable misogyny and his grotesque fetishization of misery; it is also a deconstruction of those very things. Its self-consciousness borders on self-parody but plays as exorcism."
"Antichrist, which suggests a Bergman film run amok, is wide open for ridicule," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Yet it is indelible."
Current's John Lichman: "Definitely worth seeing, but as to whether or not this is a comedy or a Trash Humpers-esque 'film as fast as I can and plot be damned,' that's entirely up to you."
Joshua Land considers Von Trier's female Christ figures for Moving Image Source.
Updates, 10/3: "It's worthless, but in a way, that's just saying that it's another Lars von Trier movie," sighs Phil Nugent. "But no fan of Von Trier's movies should stay away from Antichrist on my say so. I laid out my feelings about the director's work a long time ago, and Von Trier admirers judged them to be unconvincing."
"What to do with Lars von Trier?" asks Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "On the one hand, you have an obviously talented filmmaker; on the other, a merciless asshole. Show-off, shit-stirrer, misanthrope, naughty little boy: the epithets fairly roll off the tongue, as do the vows I've heard from more than a few friends recently that they will never again subject themselves to one of his films. This is a shame, though - there is, after all, that talent."
Update, 10/4: You've probably heard about the poor fellow who suffered a seizure about two thirds of the way through one screening. Mike S Ryan tells the story at Hammer to Nail, where he also announces, "Any critic who writes off this film will be forever stamped as IDIOT FOOL."
Update, 10/7: Von Trier is "a shrewed showman," writes Jim Emerson, but also "a thudding literalist whose mock-academic ideas and images are so over-rationalized and in-your-face that (like the mysterious cry of a baby placed too far forward in the sound mix to be haunting or ambiguous) they don't have much room to resonate. When they ought to be harrowing, they're obvious and over-explained, which cuts them off from genuine emotion or experience. Nevertheless, Antichrist is a serviceable, sometimes atmospheric horror movie, until the last chapter-and-a-half when it just goes flat. By then it's already gotten a little too much of a charge out of commenting on its own giddy morbidity, and whether the audience is laughing at it or with it doesn't matter. Either way, the laughter is dismissive."
Update, 10/8: Ben Kenigsberg talks with Von Trier for Time Out Chicago.
Updates, 10/12: Film Quarterly editor Rob White and Nina Power discuss Antichrist: "We hope you will find it useful in figuring out an enigmatic, disturbing film."
"Antichrist is as visceral and disturbing as one might expect, but also thematically coherent and formally accomplished," writes Matt Riviera. "I can't help but feel that those who cried foul transferred onto the filmmaker - an easy target by his own doing, I'll grant you - the discomfort the film made them feel about themselves."