In ANTICHRIST the couple played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, simply dubbed He and She in the credits, mourn the accidental death of their son. He processes and deals with his grief, but her method of coping with the tragedy produces emotional paralysis and a path toward madness.
As a therapist, he has his own ideas about what's best for his wife and chooses to oversee her recovery rather than let her lay medicated in the hospital. He uncovers that the seeds of her depression and fear come from nature, so off they go to a remote cabin in the woods in a place they refer to as Eden in an attempt to cure her.
There's a lot to unpack from ANTICHRIST, a head-spinning achievement and nightmarish hallucination of a film. Purely as a visual and visceral experience, puckish writer-diretor Lars von Trier produces an enormously powerful phantasmagoria that deals with and reproduces the effects of fear and depression.
On a technical level ANTICHRIST is superb at casting an unsettling dream-like atmosphere. The camera lens slowly but gradually distorts the lush yet hostile landscape of the woods and garden from which she once ran and to which they return. Falling acorns clatter on the roof of the cabin as though hell itself is raining down. Even as a viewer, nowhere and nothing feels safe in this movie. ANTICHRIST is, in a way, the ultimate horror film, one in which the natural world offers evil instead of salvation.
A major point for discussion is the rampant misogyny that von Trier offers up seriously, although who's to say whether the presentation is to be read as authorial agreement. After all, von Trier is a provocateur of the highest order. He goes so far as to replace the title's last letter with the T-like symbol of Venus. Coupled with Gainsbourg's fierce, uncompromising performance, the link of the female with evil is established, but in my mind von Trier is using gender archetypes rather than saying something about womankind.
Biblical allusions to Adam and Eve are mostly implicit in ANTICHRIST, but therein lies what may be the key to the film. Nature or mother nature (in female terms) or human nature (in general) is sinful. Eden is no longer a hospitable place. The title conjures images of a devilish figure in opposition to God, but for von Trier the Antichrist of the film's name is human frailty.
At least on the first time around ANTICHRIST seems beyond an evaluation. Whatever the grade, it's a film that demands to be seen, at least by those select viewers who can handle the extreme nature of the material.