Recently this man (Willem Dafoe) and woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg), married to each other, suffered an unimaginable tragedy which they could not have forseen. While they were energetically making love one winter's night, their young son clambered out of his cot and crawled over to the window. The couple thought he was asleep and heard nothing over the baby monitor, but the child managed to get the window open, totter out onto the ledge and tumble to the ground below. Now, after the funeral and with the burden of massive guilt weighing heavily on their shoulders, they try to come to terms with what has happened...
Antichrist was labelled in the British tabloid press as the genital mutilation movie, and although that does happen, it takes up mere seconds of the whole film. For the most part anyone looking for lurid thrills, or indeed wanting to be throroughly shocked to the core, would find a curiously lethargic examination of grief that builds to violence in a woodland cabin, a sort of arthouse Evil Dead. Titillating it was not, as we were in the territory of writer and director Lars von Trier and the trouble with him was that he was a self-styled controversialist, always on the lookout to find fresh ways to wind up and excite those who were willing to be offended by his particular style of moviemaking.
It's a two way street, the relationship between those who wish to shock and those who are outraged by them, so if von Trier didn't have this reaction from that part of society you get the impression he'd be regarded as a lone voice of lunacy, ranting away mainly to amuse himself. The whole point of Antichrist is to elicit a reaction, although the overtly stated theme of the essential evil of women is not one that is persuasively put across as even the most dyed in the wool misogynist would come away from this feeling that it was overstating its case to a ludicrous degree. Having taunted those who would have sympathy with the likes of the mentally handicapped, European patriots unwilling to face the Nazi past and American patriots who ignore the shady background of their country, von Trier turned his attentions to a more universal love.
That was the love of a whole gender, and having not exactly set the world on fire with those previous targets outwith his loyal cult audience, with Antichrist it seemed as though he might be making some headway in the goal of offence. Alas, horror fans were let down as he could not leave his arty roots behind, and art fans were put off by the absurd stylings of the violence, so after making a few waves most outside the uninitiated forgot about the film pretty quickly. Perhaps he cast his net too wide, as he added the entirety of Mother Nature to his objective, because after half an hour of hushed conversations between Dafoe and Gainsbourg, the only characters we see for most of the time and the only ones who speak, the couple head out into the forest.
The natural world they see about them begins to goad the duo with its imagery, as if to say it encapsulates the despicability of the feminine. Psychiatrist Dafoe has taken his wife out to the remote cabin to continue the therapy he is performing on her, not to any great effect as we can see, but it simply means they send each other round the bend with their proximity to each other, and three totemic animals who keep cropping up: a deer, a fox and a raven. There's a mystical element to this too, as the plot searches about for some kind of archetypes to back up its argument against women, but the problem with that is we have seen the terrible instance of what plunged Gainsbourg's bereaved parent into such despair, so no matter how awfully she acts towards her husband, and she does act extremely harshly, we have understanding of why she has ended up this way which scuppers the spurious theories otherwise presented. Von Trier dares you to hate the woman, but he cannot eradicate the audience's humanity - you'd like to think that was the point all along. If not, Antichrist was no Fatal Attraction in the popular woman-hating stakes.
Notoriously eccentric Danish writer, director and producer, a graduate of the Danish Film School, who has capitalised on international acclaim and disdain in equal measure. Thrillers Forbrydelsens Element and Epidemic started the ball rolling, with distinctive war drama Europa really setting von Trier up as a talent to watch.
Breaking the Waves, the first in a series of victim stories, won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and his fame spread, especially as he had teamed up with three other directors to create the Dogme '95 rules of filmmaking - controversial The Idiots was von Trier's result. Then Dancer in the Dark, a musical starring Bjork, proving he was anything but predictable, and Dogville, a scabrous attack on American small town life.
He was next involved in The Five Obstructions, a documentary which revealed much about his methods. Then, a thematic follow-up to Dogville, slavery drama Manderlay, which was followed by little seen comedy The Boss of It All and most controversially, his relationship goes to hell horror Antichrist. His drama Melancholia won its star Kirsten Dunst Best Actress at Cannes, but he was ordered to leave after a press conference faux pas, then returned with the patience-testing, two part Nymphomaniac. On television, he created the superb horror series The Kingdom, and he frequently casts Udo Kier.