‘Antichrist’: Humbuggery

October 20, 2009

Somehow, a shovel seems a more appropriate implement for dealing with Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” than any sort of writing utensil.

 

While some critics describe the film as vile and disgusting, that sort of moral judgment seems beside the point when dealing with a bullshit artist like von Trier. Certainly “Antichrist” offers disturbing graphic images – including one of Charlotte Gainsbourg performing a self-circumcision with a pair of scissors and another of her hitting hubby Willem Dafoe in the groin with a log so hard that his penis ejaculates blood.

 

Sorry – I didn’t say “spoiler alert” there. But this film is rancid long before it reaches that point.

 

Von Trier’s crimes are ones of intellectual humbuggery. And that’s been the case for much of his filmmaking career, whether it was the overpraised “Breaking the Waves” (a film whose saving grace is Emily Watson’s performance), the unwatchably silly “Dancer in the Dark” or the pretentious “Dogville” and “Manderlay.” And now “Antichrist,” a film built from bogus conceits, crammed with meaningless symbols – all apparently in the flim-flam artist’s hope that he can disguise this trash as treasure.

 

To some critics, apparently, he has. To me, however, he’s a charlatan masquerading as an artist or, at best, an artistic prankster. Sorry – it just doesn’t wash.

 

The plot, such as it is, deals with a married couple, meaningfully named He and She (Dafoe and Gainsbourg). Their tow-headed offspring falls out of a window one snowy night while He and She make slow-mo love in the shower. A less generous soul would speculate that the unfortunate child had read the script and jumped to spare himself the experience of the rest of the film.

 

The child’s death sends She into such a tailspin that He stops relating to her as a husband and starts treating her as a therapist dealing with a patient. (He does happen to be a therapist – oh, the irony.)

 

She, however, is hung up on things she’s read about society’s historic hatred of women. Before long, she’s conflated this with an evil she perceives in nature, deciding in a von Trier-esque leap that nature makes women evil, or something like that. I’m sure von Trier is no clearer about it than I am.

 

In desperation, He talks She into hiking out to their cabin in the woods – because there’s no place better to treat a phobia about nature than in the middle of nature, right? There, they encounter creepy, symbolic animal avatars, all trailing entrails, some of them talking. Never a good sign; at a minimum, it’s a symptom of rabies or, worse, extreme artistic overreach.

 

Which brings us to the mutilation portion of the program, with the groin-smashing, leg-impaling and genitalia-snipping. (For fun, imagine a childish Jerry Lewis reading that sentence.) I once interviewed Ms. Gainsbourg but, after seeing this film, I feel positively intimate with her.

 

Let me state it simply: Lars von Trier is a fraud, who keeps making movies because he has somehow convinced enough people that his delusions or pretensions (the latter, more likely) are art and that his movies are worthwhile. Neither idea could be further from the truth.

 

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