Antichrist (2009), Lars Von Trier
A couple's son falls from his bedroom window to his death as they are making love. It devastates them. She collapses at the funeral. She appears to be suffering far more than him. She begins to have panic attacks and suicidal thoughts: "I want to die too".
He believes her fear and suffering are focused on, or emanate from, a cabin in the woods that they used to visit. It is called Eden. They go there and there they cling to each other; comforting yes, but distantly. More like feeding. He, a psychologist, tries to control her with his therapies, suffocating her. She lashes out accusing him of being distant, exploitative and loveless, baring her teeth, screaming.
The development of the relationship, the little power struggles, the little mental cuts that bleed, are delineated so precisely and honestly that they draw us in hypnotically.
A hole opens within them and the evil of the woods and the pain inside them mingle. Eden becomes part of them - ticks feeding off his hand - and they become part of Eden - she imagines herself seeping into the grasses.
The couple here are raw flesh and blood. They are seen to be capable of and vulnerable to great emotional and physical cruelty, reminding one of the films of Ingmar Bergman (Cries and Whispers in particular) or Park Chan Wook's Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. The dark earthen hues and fierce physicality recall the striking brutality of Goya's black paintings.
This is an overwhelming experience, staggering slow motion mixing with sudden outbreaks of violence. There is an awful intensity and a pellucid stillness to it - delirium without recourse to provocation (despite some of the posters featuring a bloodied pair of scissors). It is disturbingly matter-of-fact.
Antichrist inspires an awed silence.
When something is uncomfortable to watch we may take a step back, to abstract what we see. Each critic has his own interpretation - a misogynist* tract, a history of Christian persecution of women, a critique of psychology, a study of Male intellect brought to bear on the unstable Female mind and a Cathar perspective of Creation as evil, as Satan's work...
First and foremost I saw a man and a woman struggling to cope with their grief, not Man and Woman. I saw evil not Evil. Watching, I felt nothing was demanded of me, that I needn't look further than the woods for answers. No, I looked at the film full in the face and I will never forget it. This is without doubt the best film of the year.
*This film and its director have been labelled as misogynist. Just because a fictional character thinks women are inherently evil it doesn't mean that Lars Von Trier does. Just because she is abused and killed doesn't mean that Willem Dafoe's hand is an extension of Von Trier's.
Critics seem to have lost the ability to separate fiction from reality. Trying to trace back to a director's thoughts and world-view through his work is a Sisyphean task and a fool's errand. I could be a fascist and write Communist propaganda.
Neil LaBute was criticised for his remake of The Wicker Man in which there is an island of man-hating women. This doesn't mean he hates women or that women hate men. It is fiction. You can make it up.