Sunday, June 14, 2009

Anti-Christ, Lars von Trier, 2009

While the world is raising its shackles about the unremitting violence, evil, and mostly, the genital mutilation of Lars von Trier's latest (slasher) movie, I find myself not able to get too excited by the hype. Yes, it's confrontational, yes, it's a travesty rather than an allegory, yes it's a journey into excess. There's no arguing with the critics, but it is for other reasons that I find it offensive. Even though I squirmed in my seat as the Charlotte Gainsbourg character commits unthinkable violence against her husband — the expressive as ever Willem Dafoe — when I leave the movie theater, I can let all that pass me by. Afterall, that's what the movies are all about - going to places that we haven't yet grappled with in daily conscious life. What I found very disturbing, however, was the ending.

Willem Dafoe hobbles to safety, leaving the cabin, named Eden, where he had strangled his wife because of the threat her wayward imaginings —supposedly an expression of her guilt for her dead child — poses to human kind and his life. As the camera pulls away, all of the women who were slaved, slaughtered and sacrificed in the medieval texts and legends that the woman was studying for her thesis are brought back to life. All of this is covered in a blanket of mist, through a blue tinted lens, and sung to the tunes of Handel's aria, Rinaldo, lascia ch'io pianga. The painful torture of the soul which is expressed in Handel's music is transformed into a feeling of freedom, an emotional and psychological release from the hell of events at Eden.

Irrespective of her psychopathic state, and her tortuous cruelty towards herself and her husband, I take real offense to the idea that a husband's strangulation of his wife will bring about the salvation of all women. The film is uneven and more interested in shocking its viewer than delivering a provocative allegorical reflection on grief, mourning, pain and the inner life. So it could be argued that I have misread the ending. However, even if this is not the narrative logic, the mere suggestion that the history of gynocide be revised in the wake of the Dafoe's actions, is not a palatable image in the twenty-first century.

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