Decades ago, people joked that Woody Allen used cinema as psychotherapy to deal with his often comedic neuroses, but Danish auteur Lars Von Trier takes the purging concept one step further. Made in the painful throes of a deep depression two years ago, this is grim psychosexual/ religious/horror exorcism, divided into four parts – “Grief,” “Pain,” “Despair” (subtitled “Genocide”) and “The Three Beggars” – with a prologue and an epilogue.
It begins with a husband (Willem Dafoe) and wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) engaged in monochrome, slow-motion, steamy shower sex to the accompaniment of a Handel vocal piece on the soundtrack. As their passionate love-making continues in the bedroom, their toddler son crawls out of his crib, scurries across the floor, climbs onto the open, upper-story window sill, and, tragically, falls to his death. The husband is an insightful, passive-aggressive psychotherapist who then attempts to help his crazed, distraught wife handle her inevitable despair. Realizing she is depressed and wracked with guilt, the wife agrees to try to cope with her fears by taking off for the vacation home they call Eden, a remote cabin deep in the dark, deep-green forest, forebodingly dubbed “Satan’s church.”
Too sadistic, violent and grossly offensive to try to describe, the ominous way they subsequently choose to handle the debilitating sadness of their bereavement and its accompanying anger involves gruesome, grotesque, hardcore obscene images of masturbation, torture, brutality and explicit genital mutilation.
Willem Dafoe has always been an edgy actor and he throws himself into this malevolent madness with abandon. Charlotte Gainsbourg seems more than compliant, sometimes reaching a manic crescendo as the personification of Lars Von Trier’s fear, if not hatred, of women, evidenced in previous films like “Breaking the Waves” and “Dogville.” On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Antichrist” deserves a disgusting 1 – and that’s for the indelible, if discordant visuals by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (“Slumdog Millionaire”). Bottom line: there are some movies that never should have been made, even for art-house audiences.