It’s been nearly 11 years since Lars Von Trier started off his Depression Trilogy, and since then, Antichrist has made waves, but mostly for a few moments in the film, rather than the film itself. Which is an utter shame. It has turned into a film that people use to dare one another; it’s part of the culture trying to one-up each other in terms of “gross-out” films. Other films in the genre may include A Serbian Film but I would argue that Antichrist is a different beast entirely. Lars wanted to tackle his own depression.
Von Trier suffers from depression; this is clear and evident in all of his work, more so as his films progress. If and when you watch a Von Trier film, you know that you can’t expect to walk away unscathed, and the same goes for Antichrist. The film opens in gorgeous black and white (that lasts only during the prologue, and eventual epilogue), and we watch He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) making love all over their apartment, in brief, slowed-down moments. At the same time, we see their child, Nic, get out of his crib and soon walk out of their window and fall to his death.
This is the gut-wrenching moment that sets the film in motion, while also setting the mood. There is something that is hauntingly beautiful about the sequence, between the love and affection from the spouses, and the imagery of the death of a child – all while you lay waiting to witness it all unfold, unable to help or look away.
This pain and grief attacks both parents, but in different ways. He is a therapist, so He understands in his own way how to handle and cope with the grief. While He never seems to cry over Nic, it seems that He’s upset at times that She only wallows in her pain, not willing to try and move on. It obviously is a bit more of a spectrum than the two choices, but for the sake of this story, it paints two images of how to deal with grief: to attempt to do it “properly” (by therapist standards, likely the healthier option) or to get lost and wallow in pain, and to try to not see the light.
When Von Trier started writing the film, he was hospitalized for depression. He attempted to make a horror film, and this was his outcome. It never feels like a horror film, at least not in a classical sense, but definitely feels like one when looking through Von Trier’s eyes and mindset. There are horrific moments, like the doe, or even the fox that is seen eating its own self. It’s the idea that the fox at one point says, “chaos reigns.” It’s all dream-like logic that is found in Eden. It’s a place where He and She escape and try to help heal She through exposure therapy. Eden, just like the magical and mythical garden from the Bible, is a beautiful place until She’s mind gets lost more and more, and Eden gets darker and more wrecked and broken. It’s a perfect example and metaphor of our minds as they go through depression.
Depression sometimes makes beautiful things and takes away their beauty. It makes us question our own reality. It’s how relationships (platonic or romantic) sometimes fall and fail due to us being unsure of what’s real. Our mind takes over and it slowly destroys and deteriorates our perception of reality. In the climax of the film, She attacks He and tries to track him down, the more wrecked Eden becomes.
The film should be more known than “Chaos Reigns” or self-mutilation. While that is horrific, I believe it tackles the demon of depression that it is and never pretends to have an answer on how to heal or be cured. But it helped Von Trier as he made it. At first, all he had was the title, and he worked his way out from there. At the same time, the title sometimes was an appeal for people who haven’t seen the film. Between the poster and its imagery of a couple having sex in what looks like a moment out of “Dante’s Inferno,” it’s absolutely enticing for fans of horror cinema.
The film is a wake-up call, the equivalent of a giant mug of coffee or a cold shower; it’s a brutally honest depiction of depression that makes me think of my own battle with the disorder. The film sometimes acts like a reminder of how to recover and try to pull ourselves out of what may look and feel like the depths of hell just to see the sunshine on us once again. Lars Von Trier is a highly regarded filmmaker due not to his films being cited as influences or staples of shock cinema, but because he uses that shock to help drive a point home: the fact that over 10 years have passed, and chaos does indeed still reign.