Lars von Trier's new film opens with heart-breaking lyrics of loss and longing from Handel's Rinaldo opera. The graceful yet ecstatic beauty of death – literal and symbolic (la petite mort) – sets the tone. Black and white scenes, in which the camera moves with a dreamlike slowness, are followed by dazzlingly dyed scenes of claustrophobic carnage. The effect is breathtaking and compulsive, like a drug; I would have watched the film a second time if it had been possible. The theme of the film is an ancient one: what is to become of humanity once it discovers it has been expelled from Eden and that Satan is in us? Despite the erotic beginning, Von Trier has little interest in desire; his focus is on Sadeian extreme pain and enjoyment, the abject emptying of self and other (including the audience, who are made complicit in the sexual violence
infusing the film). Antichrist circles relentlessly around acts of transgression. The violence is defiantly excessive and beautiful. It is gendered, but more misanthropic than misogynistic. The man's violence is the heartlessness of rationality. Patronisingly, he sneers at the woman's research project on gynocide. He is a rationalist cognitive therapist, who bullies herinto exposing her inner demons.
In contrast, the woman embraces the mysterious, uncanny energies of the unconscious and unknowable elemental forces. Her violence against the man and her own body is unbounded. The scenes of her crushing his penis and then snipping off her clitoris and labia are graphic. But it is not designer violence, intended to appall and titillate in the same breath. Neither does it inspire compassion. Von Trier simply presents cruelty as "there", serving no liberating function for the audience. Pain – its infliction and its suffering – is integral to life.
Von Trier has admitted that, of all his films, Antichrist "comes closest to a scream". It exposes us to an untamed erotic and aggressive aesthetic without redemption. It jolts us out of a passive voyeurism and, in despair, leaves us (in the words of Handel) crying over cruel fate.
My thoughts exactly.