My first experience with the works of art film director Lars von Trier was watching Melancholia with my girlfriend in the middle of an empty park under a shady tree one brisk Spring afternoon. The contrast in emotions was unlike any we had experienced with watching a film. A pleasant and quiet beauty was paired with frustrating hand held camerawork, a trudging pace, and the treat of Kirsten Dunst’s depression seeping into every frame and line of dialogue present in the movie. “It tastes like ashes,” has become a recurring reference between the two of us since then. We ultimately described it as a silent movie that learned how to talk. A while later, art film connoisseur and movie analyst Kyle Kallgreen made a video essay explaining the emotional metaphors and artistic significance of Melancholia and although it didn’t make me enjoy the film any more, it certainly helped me understand Von Trier’s intention and vision for the story.
And I look forward to Kallgreen’s analysis on Antichrist because I am once again lost in the dark, though not as much as before. Antichrist is rife with religious allegories and metaphors that I have yet to grasp, but it still succeeds in its execution of acting, sound design, and especially lighting. The haunting chiaroscuro style makes the whole movie feel calmly angelic until the dark begins to encroach on the environments and characters reminding you of unknown dread ever present. Made even more ominous by the guttural sound design that rears its head at the safest moments. Ear piercing whines create splinters in the back of your head while low pitched drones sound akin to a slowly dying heartbeat of a cello.
The film also possesses a prime example of the kind of unknown and ambiguous horror that I gravitate towards. While at a cabin in the woods, Charlotte Gainsbourg hears the sound of her crying infant son, but no matter where she goes she can’t find the source of his cries. When she finally finds him safe and sound in a shed, the crying continues through the woods, but the source is never found. Something so simple yet in all facets, unsettlingly wrong. I was also treated to a grim reminder as to why I once said in passing “That’s probably a film I will never watch,” when Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg experience emotional agony that’s only a precursor to the unforgettable physical pain.
Antichrist satisfies my taste in the contrast between light and shadow, serenity and terror, though its historical and symbolic implications keep me curious as to its intention. It will always remain in my mind and give me chills because of one scene.