AntiChrist Lars vonTrier (2009 Denmark Germany) Willem Defoe; Charlotte Gainsbourg
Viewed Tyneside Cinema: 27 July 07; Ticket price £6.85
God is dead: sex is dead
After the final credit of Antichrist(AC) I was left neither with a coherent idea nor thought nor with an emotional reaction to the film. My feeling was that I had been inside a dream, Lars von Trier’s dream. A stream of conscious and unconscious imagery that was in equal measure coherent and confused, profound and banal. An expression of the director’s state of mind, a personal film to which I can only make a personal response. AC left a desire to respond.
And if not the dreamer who would censor our dreams? I think this is a culture that is deeply suspicious of the dream. The dream bypasses the mental circuitry of the forebrain where our needs and desires are translated into rational social statements comprising correct concepts and vocabulary. As a culture we subject ourselves to as deep a self censorship as any Medieval peasant or monk. In both the structure and content LvT challenges our self censoriousness with the stuff of our dreams and with the logic and demands of the ‘unconscous’, the ‘devil’ within. The main problem with the transposition of dream material into AC, is that LvT has not been able to find an expressive language of images modes and devices beyond the cliché of the horror film and banalities of the snuff movie. The more you see in the literalist graphic modes that comprise the final sequence of AC, the more degraded and laughable becomes the enterprise. What starts as a allegorical Neo Nietschean post Freudian theorem, turns into a Tobe Hopper theme park, where the plot is lost in suffusion of ideas and images from competing realms: fairy tale, eschatology, daemonology, gynocide and opera bouffe mutilations etc.
But before the chaos I think that LvT in his scenario and filmic realisation, opens up areas of psychosocial functioning which justify the film. I see LvT as a Zarathustra figure, descending the mountain but announcing, not that God is dead, but that “Sex is dead”. There is something in LvT and the personal nature of his film making that is neo-Nietschian in spirit. All is allegory and excess yet there is a message that we are living at a point in time where everything is unhinged, everything is balanced betwixt disaster and overcoming. The filmic rendering of the text : the big close up’s, the wild panning camera, jump cuts the enfoldment of the intolerable and overwhelming with the stillness of nature, simulate an interiority of creative philosophical vision. “ What is the greatest thing you can experience? It is the hour of the great contempt. The hour when even your happiness grows loathsome to you, and your reason and your virtue also (Prologue Zarathustra).
Freud, after many years banished to the wilderness is reinstated by LvT. Freud’s one great insight lies at the core of AC. I think LvT has revived Freud because Freud’s ideas represent a fundamental challenge to, a break with the Western Rationality Project. (as do Nietzsche’s) Freud’s decade long analysis of his patient’s dreams led to his basic insight that man functions at an irrational level. Freud conceptualised the ‘Id’ as the instinctual basis of man’s being which all civilisations suppressed but which Western rationalism denied. LvT uses Freud’s basic concept of the “Id’ but recasts the rest of Freudian theory along his own line of vision. Freud theorised about The Primal Scene, the unconscious effect on the child witnessing their parents copulate. From the witnessing the Primal Scene came the theory of the Oedipal conflict in which the male child is driven to kill the father and fuck the mother. One of Freud’s weaknesses was the inadequacy of his theory in addressing the female.
This cannot be said of LvT who reconfigures the Primal Scene in the opening sequence of the film. I can’t say I liked the way this sequence was shot: stylised in extremis without synch sound, black and white photography all in slomo ; it had the glossy look of a Vogue centrespread and is cut to music from Handel’s opera Rinaldo, Almirena’s aria: ‘Let me Weep”. But my like or dislike isn’t the point. Because the sequence is effective in setting up LvT’s basic theorem: Sex is Dead. In Freud’s allegorical primal scene (which Freud describes as being perceived as violent) it is the psyche of the child that is subconsciously effected. During LvT’s opening primal scene, which is shot with vigour and violence, the child dies. Sex kills the child. The woman understands this; and woman whose realises that sex equates with death is consequently overwhelmed by the claims made upon her by the force of ‘her Id’. She is disturbed to the roots of her being. And so are we. LvT points directorially to the contemporary Western justification of sex. Sex is either a function of rationality or of consumption. But the actual nature of sex is fertility and in denying this are suppressing our fundamental nature. The price of denial is its violent twisted return in unexpected forms. Sex is dead. In its place rationality self image and desire are propagated but have to be constantly coppiced stimulated and resuscitated to endure within our exhausted psyches. When true fertile sex erupts through the sods of censorship it takes on a violent apocalyptic form destroying what lies in its path.
In the prologue and opening two chapters of AC, LvT sets up his theorem in relation to Him (Adam) and Her (Eve) and their return to Eden. The forces of rationality are pitted against the forces of the enraged ‘Id’ as they erupt from the trauma of the sex/death equation. The overwhelming of Eve by her subterranean daemon is expressed as cinematic compulsion as she crosses the bridge to Eden, both virtually and actually; and her nature melds with the foliage and landscape; a merging stunningly evoked by use of natural still life’s and silent shots intercut with her physical progress back into the woods. Transitions. That I found LvT’s finale unconvincing doesn’t detract from the powerful ideas that he set into play. But I found that his final imagery abandoned the powerful allegorical relations that he set in play between the sexes.
The question asked about AC in the press is whether it and by extension LvT is misogynist. The easy answer may be that it appears so. However I don’t think this is right question. I think the appropriate question is connected to the world of dreams. And whether or not you self censor your dreams when their motifs imagery and implications trouble you. I don’t think AC is misogynist but necessarily expresses itself to us as if it were. In a hostile environment context and social setting LvT is asking what happens when trauma removes the superegoistic mask of the female; the trauma of knowing that what we understand as sex is in fact death. Not life. An enraged primal ‘Id’ is released that is vengeful murderous corrupted by its true nature. This is the price of rationality. This is the terror unleashed by reason.
adrin neatrour 31 July 2009