Moments of Lars von Trierís Antichrist are elegant, flowing and beautiful. Other moments are sadistic, brutal and cruel. And while there is artistic merit to be found in Antichrist, I canít help but wonder how different Antichrist truly is from the much maligned torture porn genre. What makes Lars von Trier an artist and Eli Roth a hack? In honesty, I find von Trierís film much more graphic, disturbing and grotesque than Rothís Hostel, even though Hostel is the film with the more frequent acts of violence.
Is in the context? Antichrist places its violence amid the anguish of a married couple dealing with the loss of their child. While the wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) experiences extreme cases of grief, the husband (Willem Dafoe) attempts to use his professional skill as a psychologist to help her. Does placing the violence amidst their exploration of sex, life, death and grief somehow give the graphic moments of violence enough thematic weight to justify the explicit detail?
Or perhaps itís the audience the film is targeting. Antichrist is a piece that opens with operatic music swelling and throughout the film aligns itself with the more upper class art-house movement of film. Does the pedigree of the film and its alignment with artistically inclined film creatively validate the detail it goes to in depicting the violence and sex?
The question still lingers: why show the detail of both the sex and violence? Is the detail necessary or is it the idea, the concept, the notion that the film is striving to depict? Itís this tension where the film begins to completely collapse as the reasons to show these gruesome acts become less and less convincing.
Unlike the torture porn genre, the acts themselves are not necessarily what the film is trying to deal with. While films like Saw and Hostel are directly addressing and demonstrating issues of violence, Antichrist is about something more abstract, more universal, more spiritual. The death, anguish and torment are tied to the physical world, but their caught up in grander notions of the nature of the cosmos.
Therefore, the physical acts themselves are not what the film is about, but the symbolic nature such acts hold, what the destruction is attacking and challenging on a grander scale. Instead of Lars von Trier focusing the audience on his ideas, he distracts and interrupts their thoughts with brutal, graphic and sadistically lingering depictions of violence that detract from his broader thematic strokes.
Itís a shame because outside his extreme depictions of sex and violence, the film is thoughtful and provoking. The eerie atmosphere and strong writing perfectly coalesce into the rich ideas von Trier weaves throughout the film, but they get lost in the sensational and explicit imagery that has little value beyond the pornographic.
In some ways, I admire Hostel more than Antichrist. At least that film justifies its depictions of violence by directly dealing with them (even though the depictions themselves are laughably bad). Antichrist uses violence and sex as means to shock and distract the audience from the overall picture. That being said, Antichrist is overall the better film, but Iíd sooner watch Hostel again than suffer through Antichrist one more time.