Beth, in her quest to watch the most disturbing movies, recently had me watch Lars von Trier’s Antichrist and Melancholia. I’m not sure I’d place either of these in the horrifically disturbing category, despite some very difficult to watch scenes in the former film, including self-inflicted female genital mutilation. Generally speaking, though, I found both to be more about the devastating effects of severe depression, from which the director apparently suffers as well. When we first watched them, my immediate response to both was basically “What the hell is this?” Beth looked a little more into the movies, however, and I think I can see more of what Lars was going for.
I know Antichrist has been accused of being misogynistic, but I don’t know that I see it. Because one woman who’s horribly depressed to the point of insane violence thinks women are evil, that doesn’t mean the film as a whole necessarily does. Of course, I don’t know what was in Mr. von Trier’s mind when he wrote it. There’s definitely a lot of symbolism related to Genesis and original sin.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of the intriguing Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, plays a woman who sets out to write a thesis about the persecution of women, only to start believing that women really are to blame, due to being controlled by nature or something like that. She lets her son fall out a window and die because she’s too busy having sex, and after the funeral her husband decides to act as her therapist, which is never a good idea. Played by Willem Dafoe, this character struck me as well-meaning but full of himself. Some of the symbolism involves the Three Beggars, who show up in the form of a fox, a crow, and a deer. Gainsbourg’s character sees them as a constellation that her husband insists doesn’t exist, but no constellations REALLY exist, and perhaps someone more versed in astronomy could tell me whether they could potentially exist. According to Gainsbourg’s research, they’re right below Corvus, an actual constellation that also represents a crow.
I’ve seen it proposed that the Three Beggars are supposed to be an inversion of the Three Wise Men, which are sort of a constellation themselves, being another name for Orion’s Belt.
In Melancholia, the Earth is about to be hit by a planet formerly obscured by the Sun. The planet is actually called Melancholia, because more subtle symbolism isn’t Lars von Trier’s style. Kirsten Dunst’s character has some kind of second sight and knows that the world is going to end soon, so she goes crazy at her own wedding, abandoning her groom for sex with some other guy and telling off her boss. Her sister, played by Gainsbourg, spends most of the film being paranoid about the impending collision. Dunst lacks this paranoia even though she knows what will happen, based on an insight of Mr. von Trier’s about how depressed people tend to remain calm in stressful situations. I can’t say that’s ever been the case with me, but I didn’t make the movie. This one lacks the disturbing scenes of violence for which Antichrist is known, but it’s no less bizarrely depressing. I guess you could tell that from the title, though, couldn’t you?