This review originally appeared on The Awl.
I don't have to tell you that Antichrist sucks. Plenty of highbrow places like the New York Times and Slate have already done so, their writers leaping to slather disdain on this latest morsel of art-horror crap. Oh, it's so distasteful! And offensive! And (gasp) misogynistic! Though it all begs the question: If this audience-chafing, Cannes-enraging glob of rubbish is so irredeemable, why the hell is every publication still in existence racing to write about it, as opposed to, say, The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror (now out on DVD)? The answer is twofold: Antichrist was made by Lars Von Trier, and it's probably the only film ever screened at Cannes that centers entirely on penis mutilation.
Here's a rundown (since I don't expect anyone to actually subject themselves to this movie): We open with snooty black-and-white shots of a toddler leaping from a window to his death while his parents get it on porno-style (Get it? Having sex after procreation will KILL your CHILDREN! As will reading and/or contributing to mommy blogs). Mother is despondent, father emotionally void. From then on, their itinerary looks like this: Sit in bed and have conversations where she pulls out stereotypical fuck-with-your-head comments like "You never loved me" while he sits there like a rock. Have graphic sex. Have more retarded conversations. More sex. Head to their summer cabin, which is apparently located at Camp Crystal Lake. More sex. Then the wife has a few communing-with-nature moments, starts channeling Jack Torrance, and predictably goes postal. Cue more sex, and the much-ballyhooed genital mutilation scene - which, at the very least, means no more sex.
Yes, it's as awful and pointless and self-indulgent as everyone says. But it KNOWS this. It is a movie aware of its own awfulness - Von Trier practically admitted as much. This film was his therapy, and was made on a depression-addled whim. So when you take it on those terms, it actually does a few interesting things. Case in point: It's not often you see a woman smash a penis on film. Most directors won't go within a mile of penis smashing (perhaps because 95% of them have penises themselves), and the ones that do usually steer clear of the full smash. Sure, Hostel II had a graphic penis cut (more on Eli Roth's Portnoy-esque complaint later) and Hard Candy got about 15 yards from the end zone (girls, for a good time, watch that one on a bad date). And of course, there's always Teeth. But here, the Danish wonderdirector goes for that rarest of things: the full-contact smash. He sets it up so blatantly, you could almost call a play-by-play: And the wife is starting to really lose it now...she's going for the blunt instrument...she...could...go...all...the...WAY!!! (Ahem -- not that I'm condoning penis smashing. I don't have one myself, but I certainly understand that those in possession of penises have a highly vested interest in not seeing them smashed. In fact, I thought the scene was one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen on screen. As did the guy I was watching it with, who shrieked and ran out of the room.)
As for the whole feminist debate, come on people - let's reserve the "misogyny" battle cry for stuff that's meant to be taken seriously. This is a marginal movie about a marginal viewpoint - our society has come far enough that it's no longer a commonly-held view that women are hysterical nutbags bent on destroying men. These reviewers crying lady-hate manage to be as pretentious as the movie itself, by making this silly film into something that deserves our feminist attentions. Misogyny? How 'bout we talk about mainstream Hollywood, where practically EVERY movie marginalizes female roles? At least Von Trier has the balls (intact, one hopes) to be laughably blatant about it, and to vent his lady-anger in a forum that limits the physical and emotional violence to one short crappy film. After all, it's just a movie, people - no one's ever gonna force you to watch it.
Except me (sorry Steve).