John Doe says in "Se7en": "Wanting people to pay attention, you can't just tap them on the shoulder. You have to hit them in the head with a sledgehammer." L. von Trier was tapping on the shoulder with "Dogville". He turns to a sledgehammer with "Antichrist". The problem is that when you have been hit by the extremities of his latest endeavor the most appropriate question you may want to ask seems to be suggested by the next line of the late detective Mills: "What makes you so special that people should pay attention?"
This movie doesn't strike as an overt emotional manipulation like "Dancer in the Dark" (the fact that the latter is really something that can be described in such a way was eventually admitted even by the director himself). The cinematography is stunning - in a good sense of the word. Several frames with Willem Dafoe's face will certainly enter the gallery of iconic images provided by modern cinema. Even the dedication to Tarkovsky was not vain. But von Trier is neither stupid/ talentless nor childish/egocentric - hopefully, at least - to the extent to actually consider making movies a kind of therapy, and the screening room his own private couch at a shrink's. So he is trying to bring in a meaning here after all. If so what is it?
What is that point he is trying to deliver? Human nature is far from being perfect? It's hardly new news. The aesthetic audacity and harshness of images in "Dogville" were fully justified by a consistency of its message, which they conveyed in a completely adequate way. As far as I can see, von Trier was talking then about the unbearable hypocrisy of our modern civilization and an inevitable catastrophe this civilization is heading for (while his account made I'm afraid a pretty accurate description of the actual situation). What does he have to add with this feature? Is it that all evil which falls upon people is intrinsically immanent in human nature? Having experienced or witnessed a critical amount of grief, pain and despair man comes to some point when even a concept of good, God, hope or whatever you call it is becoming virtually inconceivable? And after that chaos reigns? That to fight that man has to kill an evil in himself which he might love? But this fight is doomed anyway if a natural arena for it happens to be a world "issued by Satan"? It's a kindergarten philosophy. Some of these things may very well be true and correct, but to make all these daring assumptions and observations it's quite sufficient to have read a dozen of books or had just one good look around. There can be several more interpretations - some somewhat less coherent, some even more banal. What are justifications of all this excruciating imagery we encounter in "Antichrist" then? It's not quite clear.
So I should say that it is a bit surprising that the audience has happened to be so polarized. In fact, this movie is neither too good, nor too bad. And I might be missing something but I have a strong feeling that von Trier can be quite justly accused on this particular occasion of doing something he was quite wrongly accused of doing on some previous ones - of trying to compensate in a badly provocative manner a certain shallowness of his work and its half-baked message by the extremities of the way in which they are presented.
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