The actresses who have worked alongside Von Trier often attest to his bizarre relationship with women. Kidman famously asked the director why he hates women, while Bjork was so disturbed on set that she began to consume her own sweater. All that highly negative press is probably what led to Von Trier hiring a misogyny specialist for his latest film, 'Antichrist.' But he needn't have bothered. Anyone in their right mind (i.e. none of the characters in the film) would realize this movie is not about men or women, at all, but about the repercussions of depression.
WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC SPOILERS
It's easy to understand why the name Lars Von Trier sets off the ire of countless feminists. If you look at them a certain (incredibly narrow) way, the Danish director's films can be distilled into one big pile of woman-hating celluloid. In 'Breaking the Waves', Emily Watson stars as a woman whose husband becomes paralyzed and encourages her to sleep with other men; in 'Dogville,' Nicole Kidman's character is raped and enslaved; and in 'Dancer in the Dark,' Bjork plays a woman who is slowly going blind and eventually falsely accused of a crime she did not commit.
The actresses who have worked alongside Von Trier often attest to his bizarre relationship with women. Kidman famously asked the director why he hates women, while Bjork was so disturbed on set that she began to consume her own sweater. All that highly negative press is probably what led to Von Trier hiring a misogyny specialist for his latest film, 'Antichrist.' But he needn't have bothered. Anyone in their right mind (i.e. none of the characters in the film) would realize this movie is not about men or women, at all, but about the repercussions of depression. Misogyny requires a certain commitment to hating women while anyone who knows anything about depression is aware that those afflicted with it have no attachment to anything at all.
'Antichrist' is Von Trier's first horror film and revolves around a couple, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whose child dies while they are in the midst of making love. The duo retreat to a cabin in the woods where He tries to cure his wife of depression only to realize he seems to be causing the opposite effect.
The biggest controversy to come out of Cannes this year, the sado-masochistic horror that is 'Antichrist' was concocted out of Lars Von Trier's depression. In it a husband (Willem Dafoe) and wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) retreat to a cabin in the woods to get over the death of their son, only to find themselves embroiled in a non-stop circle of sexual violence and abuse. Not for the prudish or the faint of heart.
Von Trier wrote the screenplay during an intense period of depression and offers up a tremendously visceral depiction of the mood disorder. He also details (sometimes over clinically) the steps taken to assuage its symptoms and ultimately cure the afflicted. Von Trier no doubt focused on female depression because the general public can think of nothing more upsetting than a woman losing her child. Though men experience depression just as often as women, a cinematic depiction of this feeling of loss requires an accessible example, such as a mother losing her child (Von Trier also uses images of a doe with an aborted fetus emerging from it to push this theme home).
'Antichrist' has been attacked for its use of explicit sex and violence, but upon close inspection neither one is used gratuitously. One shot of a male member entering a female orifice while He and She are having sex seems superfluous, but later on, when She begins to see the sex as an agent of her son's death, the explicit mechanics of the act make sense. For her, sex is no longer an act of love, simply an indulgent and somewhat grotesque act.
The theme of death and sex as inseparable entities provides 'Antichrist's' backbone. For Gainsbourg's character, sex is inextricably linked to her son's death and is thus an act that simultaneously repulses her and brings her close to her son. Jumping her husband every five minutes is a way to distract She from her grief, sure, but it's also a way of going back to a time when her son was on the precipice but still alive. The infamous genital mutilation scene is simply her inability to accept this paradox.
However, 'Antichrist's' anti-heroine does not only abuse herself to quell her anxiety, she also attacks her own husband. This includes a graphically violent scene in which She literally breaks her husband's testicles (another agent of her son's death) and inserts a nail through his leg while he is passed out, a rather uninspired symbol of how her grief is tying him down.
Gainsbourg's physical abuse of her husband is as much a symptom of her madness as is her sudden penchant for quoting misogynistic excerpts from her abandoned master's thesis research. Rather than being a negative depiction of women, She is simply a realistic representation of the way in which our minds become unhinged when we become depressed.
Considering how much He has been battered, verbally abused and objectified by his wife, his sudden urge to strangle her is not so much an act of chauvinism as it is an understandable response to her attacks. Not to mention the fact that the act of strangling her is, in a sense, the act of suffocating her grief, which has become all-consuming. While He must realize killing his wife is a crime, He is also aware that death is the greatest gift he can give her. Anyone who wants to call that misogynistic only has to remember the wife's plea to join her son when she discovers he is dead. Having one's last wish granted no doubt beats having one's genitalia slashed.