Von Trier's test
13. 7. 2009 / Ema Čulík
I didn't want to write anything about Antichrist . People are talking about it so much that I didn't want to get involved in it all. And I thought that everything I could say had already been stated many times. But today I had a worrying thought about it all.
I have to say that the film made me feel physically sick. I found at one point during the movie I was tensing every muscle in my body. And not only the violence bothered me. The rest of the film is undeveloped, the supposedly intellectual parts (about mythology and the history of gynocide...) are scanty and unlinked to anything.
A Czech version of this article is HERE
The characterisation is also weak -- the husband is too patient to believe, has no personality of his own, the woman is too destructive to take. Her reaction to her child's death is too extreme to believe and would have to be supported by much more psychological development in order to be accepted by the audience or win their sympathy.
The fact that from her studies of the history of women's oppression she came to the conclusion that women are in fact evil and deserve to be destroyed shows that she is troubled herself. Self hatred always comes from within, not from any external factors.
So, for all of these reasons the film just annoyed me and I didn't want to write about it. I'd decided to see the film, of course, out of curiosity, but also because I feel the need to be in the know about what is going on in the film world.
But when we came out of the cinema we all had the feeling that, "He must be out of his mind!"
And, it turns out, he was, in fact, out of his mind when he was making this film. He himself talks about how he was suffering from severe depression when he made Antichrist and he found it incredibly difficult to work on it, but he forced himself. He can't explain the origin of the story, it's all part of his dark suffering. It's like the horrible scribblings that you might create in your most painful moments that most people would tear up or throw away or set fire to. But Von Trier decided to show it to the whole world.
I'm not sure that his pain has meaning for cinema audiences. If it is supposed to be provocation, then to what? What is he challenging in us? Is he trying to make us reassess our views on violence, hatred, destruction? Is he trying to make us realise that humanity is intrinsically evil? I feel that it can't work as provocation or art when it has so little connection to reality. Eisenstein says that "Art's nature is a conflict between organic inertia and purposeful initiative....Hypertrophy of organic naturalness -- of organic logic -- dilutes art into formlessness." That is, without some control and rationality, art is self-indulgent, and stops being art at all.
And so if it isn't art, what is it? Provocation? It can't be, because that would assume purpose, which I think here is lacking. He himself does not pretend to have had any particular aim.
I think this film is a very interesting phenomenon, and it is fascinating not because of itself, but because of the way that people react to it. This kind of thing is a test. If we as a society, as humanity, were to accept this film, to enjoy it, to recognise it as a work of art, let alone a 'good' one, then what would it say about us? I can't wait to have a big discussion about this film, because I really want to hear the arguments of people who say they liked it, found it worthwhile. And what about the opposite? With things like this, there is the tiresome probability that someone will say, "Oh, you only don't like it because you are ignorant/old fashioned/stupid/boring/cowardly." Would you call me cowardly if I refused to kill a cat, to screw a hole into my boyfriend's leg?
I think the phenomenon of this film raises a lot of questions about the limits of art and about the limits of humanity. Von Trier has done it despite himself, but I think we should be careful about the way that we take this film and judge it.
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