As you probably already know, Antichrist has been called ‘disgusting’ and ‘depraved’ and ‘the most offensive film ever made’, although I don’t personally get what all the fuss is about. Yes, there is extreme violence. Yes, there is explicit, penetrative sex. Yes, there is a genital mutilation scene involving rusty scissors. But, come on, doesn’t this happen in homes up and down the country all the time? Just the other day, in fact, I found my teenage son lounging on the sofa — as usual! — while mutilating his genitals — as usual! — and I had to say to him, ‘Can’t you ever think of anything else to do? What do you think we bought that PlayStation for? To gather dust? Now, I’m off to have explicit, penetrative sex with your father before hammering a bolt though his shin, and I expect those scissors to be gone by the time I get back.’ Or is it just our home?
OK, joking aside, is it ‘depraved’ and so on? To give you some context, it’s written and directed by Lars von Trier who also made Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville; films which have always been compelling and intriguing if not especially likeable. According to my press notes, von Trier wrote this while in the midst of a terrible depression, although I think I might have guessed as much. It opens with a couple having wild sex as their toddler son accidentally falls to his death through an open window. This, actually, is rather stunningly done. It’s all in slo-mo black and white as opera plays in the background and falling snow drifts in at the window, like confetti. It’s as if a perfume ad had gone grotesquely wrong. The couple, who remain nameless throughout, are played by Willem Dafoe and the very oddly beautiful Charlotte Gainsbourg, who recently won the best actress award at Cannes for this film, even though four people fainted during its première. Really? It’s only our home, then? Well, I’ll be…
Anyway, after she spends some time in a psychiatric ward dealing with her grief, Dafoe, a therapist, convinces Gainsbourg they should retreat to their cabin deep in secluded woods (they call it ‘Eden’) so that he can teach her how to face her fears. Here, acorns clatter down nightly, leeches attach to his hand, a deer wanders around with a dead baby hanging out of her bottom — always a nice touch — their sex is violent, she becomes hysterically evil, the rusty scissors come out, a fox chants: ‘Chaos reigns.’ Seriously, they should have gone to Butlins (Minehead). I’ve never had any such problems there and once even won a tea set at the bingo.
The imagery is certainly…how shall I put this?…powerful. And, yes, I did look at my lap for long periods, so I didn’t have to look at the screen. It is nastily terrifying. But — and here’s the thing — even though I hate any kind of horror, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t strangely hooked. Does this mean it’s a good film? I don’t know. I know only that now I’ve seen it, I will always know I’ve seen it, just as I will always know I’ve seen The Night Porter, for example, or A Clockwork Orange. But does Antichrist mean anything? Is von Trier saying that although we always put the creation of nature down to God, it could just have easily been the devil? Is it Antinature? Is it about misogyny? Is it about the dark places grief can take you, particularly when it is entwined with sex? Is von Trier simply giving us the finger? Will a Victoria sponge always prove more popular than a lemon drizzle cake? Although I can reply with a certain ‘yes’ to that last question — absolutely; who doesn’t love a Victoria sponge? — I just don’t know when it comes to the others. I’m sorry, but I don’t. Still, it has made me think, and let’s face it, I don’t do that very often.
Look, Antichrist is deftly made, visually atmospheric and has, at its heart, two of the rawest, bravest performances you will probably ever see. It’s also horrible and therein lies the rub, I suppose. Go for it if you want to test your own boundaries, don’t if you don’t. As for ‘the most offensive film ever made’, I’m rather thinking that was Marley & Me. That doggie took days to die, for heaven’s sake! It was terrible!