Director: Lars Von Trier
Spine # 542
In 2009, director Lars Von Trier presented his first film for years at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France. This film had heavily divided critics with some such as Roger Ebert loving the film and others such as Claudia Puig despising it. The film, Antichrist, is currently sitting at a forty eight percent approval rating and it even received a special anti-award at Cannes. This brilliant film stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a grieving couple known solely as He and She who retreat to a cabin in the woods called Eden to help She cope with the tragedy better as things go from bad to worse. While this film does include many conventional horror tricks, it uses these tricks brilliantly by masking them with psychological drama and heavy themes such as coping and even the horrors of patriarchy. The strongest theme found in Antichrist though is the heavily symbolic religious theme. Throughout, von Trier asks the audience who they think the Antichrist is or symbolizes out of the three characters, He, She and Eden. At the end of Antichrist, it can be perceived that as he commits Wrath and Pride, He is the sinner. Eden is Hell as it is the environment where all dark elements of nature are found and as well allow me to go back to the ground burning comment. It is also Eden that influences this chaos that ensues in the final act of the film. That leaves She to be the Antichrist as her purity dies during the prologue and throughout each chapter until the climax, she is influenced of her fate by the evils of Eden and the desire for wrath over her husband’s control.
In conventional horror, there is often the character who pushes the others to fight their fear and stay at the creepy wherever the bulk of the terror lies. This character is He, played boldly by Willem Dafoe, a therapist and the sinner. As the film’s central plot begins to unfold, so does his pride. He takes his wife, She, out of the hospital immediately after the fact and claims he can help her cope with the death of their son. With his pride, He becomes more controlling by flushing her prescribed medication down the toilet and controlling her sexual urges.
We learn quickly that She has felt a distance between herself and He as she was writing her thesis on gynocide. His insincere answer leads to questioning why He is trying to help her then?
Eventually, he pushes her to stay at the cabin where She wrote her thesis, Eden. He claims “exposure” is best for her because by staying in the place that she fears most, she will “learn that fear isn’t dangerous”. Now, the viewer is introduced to the woods and Eden, which though is the central setting for most of the film, plays a heavy role in the horrors that consume the rest of this cinematic journey. From a religious viewpoint, Eden can be seen as Hell. As they step closer to Eden, She begins to exclaim that the ground is burning her feet which can resemble the burning and fires of Hell. During their stay, He walks around and discovers a deer with a stillborn calf hanging out of its uterus. He also notices a fox eating its own guts and intestines as it looks at him saying “chaos reigns”. These creatures, along with a black crow are known as the Three Beggars. From a psychological standpoint, they symbolize Pain, Grief and Despair, all three of which She goes through during the film. From a religious view, these creatures can represent the tortures and the victims of this Hell. The deer suffers with a stillborn calf attached to it and the fox must suffer in Hell by continuously mutilating itself and the black crow must suffer being buried alive forever. Despite all of this brutality found in nature, He still forces She to stay in Eden until she heals. This is his next sin, Gluttony. He and She take excessive amounts of the terrifying Eden in by staying there longer.
The longer the couple remains in Eden, the quicker her true fate is revealed. She is the antichrist. As the Pain, Grief and Despair inside of her grows, the viewer begins to see that her pure evil is stronger. The “three beggars” that are seen throughout the film psychologically represent her subconscious and what she is feeling. All of these dark elements of the woods also happen to her. Like the fox, she mutilates herself. Similar to the deer, she must suffer with the death of her child. Akin to the crow, she is to suffer to be buried alive in these thoughts of evil and horror. These creatures and the Hell that is Eden were created by her which makes her the ruler of Eden. She also tortures He, the sinner, as he enters Eden, Hell. She does this by multilating him and sexually torturing him. The mutilation can also be seen as her way of chaining him so he does not escape Hell. According to Daniel 7:24, the Antichrist will grow more in power, which She does over He. As well the Antichrist “shall be different from the first [ten kings]”. This fits her because she is not a male. She is a female meaning she is different.
Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is not a film to be recommended to everyone which is a shame since the film is absolutely thought provoking and brilliant. Though many themes can be explored, the themes of Satan and evil are most noticed. The religious symbolism in the film leads the viewer to believe that He is the sinner, Eden is Hell and She is the antichrist. These three characters bring together a terrifying horror that unfortunately is not appreciated enough for its mesmerizing symbolism.