Directed by Lars von Trier
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 108 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: November 9, 2010
Review Date: November 3, 2010
The psychology of loss, the periods of intense grief, pain, and despair, has been the fodder for films long before Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, but it's likely none have done it in quite as sensationalistic or affected way as this director has done it. He’s inflicted some arty photographic effects throughout the movie as if he’s sprinkling salt on a piece of meat, but these shots don’t make the film’s central story any more palatable and actually smacks a bit of desperation. The film likewise lacks in-depth characters and tosses in enigma seemingly to confound the audience into thinking that it’s seeing something deep and meaningful. The actors work very hard to bring some validity to the pain and suffering of the central situation, but this is a movie which screams pretension throughout its entire 108-minute running time.
When their toddler gets out of his crib, climbs on a table, and jumps out of an open window killing himself while they are making love in their laundry room, a therapist (Willem Dafoe) and his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are naturally devastated. Her guilt and depression reach such overpowering depths that her husband fears for her life. Distrusting her therapist’s high dosage prescriptions as the answer to her condition, the husband decides to become his wife’s therapist by taking her off medication and taking her for a therapeutic retreat to their isolated mountain cabin where her paranoia becomes worse by the day eventually bringing her to the brink of total madness.
Lars von Trier wrote the screenplay at a time in his life when he himself was suffering from debilitating depression and anxiety, and the extent of his suffering is conveyed quite richly in the film through the character played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. He’s infused the film with numerous surreal moments, not just indicating the wife’s unbalanced mental state but suggesting that the husband, fully aware that he’s breaking a cardinal rule of his profession by treating a close family member, is likely his wife’s worst enemy. They both have moments during the movie that indicate they’re both still reeling from their loss and unfit to help themselves much less each other, but the drama doesn't really go anywhere meaningful. The film segues uneasily into both softcore porn (her grief has given her an insatiable sexual desire much like the woman in In the Realm of the Senses) and a psychological horror movie as her insanity leads to a succession of horrific acts against her husband and herself (grisly enough to make watching the screen very uncomfortable indeed). And yet, these events aren’t erotic or scary; they’re irritating and a bit insulting to the intellect with the powerful husband a rag doll to be battered about by his wife and the wife clearly bonkers but with presence of mind enough to go searching for her fleeing but injured husband with implements nearby for easy access. It’s a nihilistic dive into a black and banal abyss for much of the film’s running time, and the handsomely filmed prologue (in evocative black and white and an overcranked camera) and stylistic shots done with a variety of visual effects don’t do much to ease the viewer’s pain and suffering from experiencing it. Toney touches in a distressingly grisly film don't make it important.
The two actors certainly give their all in service to Von Trier’s cinematic anguish. Willem Dafoe uses considerable physicality and a calming, even demeanor to establish his character’s more rational ways of dealing with the trauma of loss. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s willingness to explore the psychological depths of this woman’s naked (literally and figuratively) depression deserves points for bravery even if her work seems sometimes a bit overwrought even for so extreme a set of circumstances for the movie.
The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The black and white prologue and epilogue are wonderfully composed and delivered with excellent clarity in a marvelous grayscale that brings out the black levels to their best. The four chapters of the story between the bookends feature a flat color scheme that sometimes has tinges of blue that give the picture a strange, cool quality at odds with the heated exchanges of its two protagonists. Overall, the image can look fairly natural at times with good color saturation, but at other times it can also seem slightly digital and unnatural and even soft in places. The deliberately soft extreme close-ups using a “babylens” distract more than they impress, but they’re clearly what the creator wanted. The film has been divided into 22 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix doesn’t make full use of the surround environment especially once the couple ends up in the forest. Though there are some effective, immersive sounds of wind and rain on occasion along with some falling acorns on a tin roof, the rears are unusually quiet for long stretches of the film. The LFE channel gets used quite frequently by the director’s fondness for ominous low rumbles sent through the mix for unsettling jolts on occasion. Dialogue is nicely recorded and resides firmly in the center channel.
The audio commentary features director Lars von Trier and film professor Murray Smith who does most of the commentary while firing questions at the maestro about the meanings of certain aspects of the film which the director isn’t always able to answer. Fans of the film will certainly give it an enthusiastic listen, but it’s a fairly long slog for the rest of us.
“Confessions About Anxiety” is a brief 5-minute featurette with director Lars von Trier discussing his psychological problems and their effects on his script and direction of the piece. The movie’s special effects coordinator and director of photography also weigh in on the director’s problems during the filming. It’s in 1080i.
“Charlotte Etc.” is a 44-minute interview (in French with pale white subtitles) with the actress who describes her casting process, how she coped with the director’s unusual manner of working, its reception at Cannes, and her thoughts about the nudity and violence that were required of her. It’s in 1080i.
“Willem Dafoe: Agent of Fantasy” is a 18 ¼-minute interview with the actor who had worked with von Trier before and was respectful of his process. It’s in 1080p.
“The Making of Antichrist” is a series of seven featurettes about the production. They’re all presented in 1080i.
- “Behind the Test Film” reveals that Lars von Trier made an experimental test film of this material with different actors trying different effects which would carry over to the completed project. We see excerpts from the film in this 6 ½-minute featurette.
- “Visual Style” investigates the many different camera techniques utilized to give the film a very different look and feel. This runs for 15 ½ minutes.
- “Sound and Music” features musician and sound designer Andre Rigaut talking about the tonalities used throughout the film for atmosphere in this 13-minute clip.
- “Eden – Production Design” has production designer Karl "Kalli" Juliusson discussing the search for a location for the cabin and its having to be abandoned days before filming. This vignette runs 5 ¼ minutes.
- “Makeup Effects and Props” features the special effects technicians discussing prosthetics used to simulate some of the body parts which are key to the movie. This runs 8 ¼ minutes.
- “The Three Beggars” discusses the three specific animals which had to be trained carefully to play their roles in the movie. The raven, the doe, and the fox are all shown with their trainer in this 8 ¼-minute feature.
- “The Evil of Woman” deals with the difficult search for classic artwork which portrayed women in wicked situations, vital to one of the film’s memorable discoveries. This runs 7 ¾ minutes.
There are three theatrical trailers, all in 1080p. Two of them run 2 minutes each and the third runs 2 ¼ minutes.
The enclosed 28-page booklet contains the chapter listing, a complete cast and crew list, some interesting color and black and white shots from the film, and an exploratory essay on Lars von Trier’s work prior to and including Antichrist by film professor Ian Christie.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
3.5/5 (not an average)
An unsettling and somewhat interesting if not completely successful exploration of a psyche in chaos, Antichrist carries the mark of Criterion with pride: an unusual film, superb video and audio encoding, and bountiful bonus features. For some, that will be enough at least to explore with a rental.