The following is intended as a handy guide for first or second year undergrads in Cultural/Film/Women’s studies looking to put one over on their Prof by parsing Danish provocateur Lars Trier’s Antichrist as being not, in fact, misogynist.
1. Index reactions to the film: Here you write about how Antichrist (2009) has, as with much of Trier’s cinema, divided audiences. People booed it at Cannes, someone in the audience had a seizure at TIFF, people lazily and unanimously praised the “courageous” performances by stars Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, etc. Use throwaway phrases like “unsurprisingly audacious” and “as ever, bold.” State that while it may be easy (/reactionary/irresponsible) to regard a film that operates through the principle that women are somehow essentially evil as being at all misogynist, this (really) is not the case.
2. Recap the narrative: In a paragraph or so, explain the film’s central narrative arc. Namely: an unnamed husband and wife (Dafoe and Gainsbourg) head to a cabin in the secluded woods of Washington, after their toddler falls to his death while the couple are having sex in super slo-mo in the next room. Mention that the husband is a therapist who hopes to use cockamamie exposure therapy and reductive cognitive behavioural techniques to ease the grief of his borderline-catatonic wife, an academic who has abandoned her thesis on gynocide. Also make sure to mention that the man is ruthlessly clinical and dispassionate, while the woman is essentially a dressed-down 19th Century Viennese hysteric, constantly stripping naked and attempting to fuck her misery away. This, you’ll claim, represents the classic divide between men as being rational beings with a mastery over mind and body, and women being unreasonable creatures whose closeness to nature (as expressed in their ability to bear life) evinces an undomesticated spirit that reason, despite its best efforts, cannot tame. (“That husband and wife are referred to in the credits as He and She, respectively, further speaks to their characterization as embodiments of the fundamental divide between man and woman.”)
3. Provide a thematic/allegorical sketch: Here you will bring up the fact that the forest He and She remove themselves to is called Eden and that it features, among other things, a garden, a fruitless tree and a decomposing fox who exclaims “Chaos reigns!” Like the Judeo-Christian Eve, She is fallen and, apart from intentionally torturing her own son, initiates a torrent of sexual violence that constitutes the bulk of the film’s viscera. This, again, is not misogynist. As in Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005), Trier is staging a “didactic exchange” between what the film is ostensibly showing (i.e. that women, bearing the irrevocable stain of Eve’s transgression, are essentially wicked and that the history of male violence against women can be vindicated in light of this elemental inequity) and his “actual” point-of-view, which, you’ll unfoundedly assert, is quite the opposite. If anything, that She is proactively resisting the psychological authority that He has ben dangling over her makes She captain of her own fate.
4. Critically engage the film’s extreme violence: Even though Lars Von Trier has previously revelled in showing women being slapped, raped and otherwise abused, maintain that he remains critical of the violent attractions he eagerly showcases. That the images of She bashing He’s testacies with a heavy wooden board, masturbating him until he ejaculates blood, and then driving a millstone through his shin, despite resonating more deeply than all the anti-therapy, good/evil mumbo jumbo in Antichrist, aren’t images of exploitation, but provocation. The anecdotes of his tormenting Björk on the set of Dancer in the Dark (2000) has no bearing on this. Mention that his production company, Zentropa Films, has produced “female-friendly” hardcore pornography that has been well-received in Europe, thus making Trier above suspicion w/r/t his more patently misogynist tendencies. After all, it’s not that Trier enjoys mistreating actresses (despite the slew of on-screen evidence to the contrary), but that his heroines are naive “golden hearts,” corrupted by the vile intent of men. That his heroines are so easily corruptible is also, for some reason, not an anti-woman, anti-feminist slag, you’ll claim. Also make sure to mention that the performances he wrings out of his leading ladies are so demanding that many of them go on to win awards and heaps of critical praise (go girl!), a substantial advancement for women that outweighs any perceived exploitation they suffer at their director’s hands.
5. Defend Trier: Finally, justify Antichrist by speaking to the many, much better and more thoughtful films that Trier has churned out. Europa (1991) is one of the best films of last decade, after all. State that no matter how pig-headed he may appear, Trier is really an “ethical and existential prankster” who consistently indulges a project of moral play, as best seen in something like The Five Obstructions (2003). If you’re still doubting whether your Professor/T.A. will buy it, drive home the point that no matter how dubious his ethics, gosh darn if Lars Von Trier can’t frame a shot.
There. Guaranteed B+.