The Depression Trilogy w/ Lars Von Trier Reviewed: Antichrist

by Paul Deeter

The unobvious cinematic trilogies of great directors are usually established late in their careers, as a culmination of an idea stretched between three films. The obvious cinematic trilogies would include The Lord of the Rings three part arc, or the original, prequels or sequels arcs in the Star Wars canon. So when we look back at classic filmmakers and the world surrounding them at the time, we can analyze their works as a reflection of the themes and trends in cinema at the time. Oliver Stone's Vietnam trilogy which include Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Heaven and Earth in order, are politically relevant to the post-war culture and emotional fallout soldiers from the war, like Stone had. This is a trilogy reflective of the director's own beliefs, as he would continue to make political epics for years on, along with exploring his post-war mental fatigue. Then there's off kilter examples like the 'Cornetto trilogy' a series of three apocalyptic themed comedies from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, which are more focused on entertainment than allegory. These such trilogies are usually planned, unlike Scorcese's series of The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun and Silence, which were certainly cumulative of the director's beliefs and passions but fell out of order due to production issues or a multitude of other reasons. So when an auteur director, as Lars Von Trier has been called, goes ahead and decides he's making a trilogy called the "Depression Trilogy" he's gonna stick it out until it's done.

To Lars Von Trier, production issues or public response has never really been of concern, post his many successes pre 2000. With the 1996 release of Breaking the Waves Trier portrayed a marriage that falls apart seemingly due to powers beyond them. Emily Watson is the innocent Bess, who falls apart tragically to the viewer over the course of two hours both from exile from the community she's a part of and also from the world's unrelenting harshness. It's a staggering achievement, winning over the hearts of critics and becoming an award-winning feature for Trier. It's tragic, but beautiful and sympathetic to the audience while not shying away from the reality these characters face. Then 2000 would see Bjork's performance in Dancer in the Dark which was again a tragic tale, and far darker than Waves. While this film met favoritism internationally, its relevance has faded over time and Bjork has publicly denounced her experience on set as of 2017. This would be a film of his that would go down in its most controversial to this day, but even then the film weaves together an almost voyeuristic torture in its depiction of Selma (Bjork), and left a sour taste in my mouth. With allegations coming against the director over time for both onset cruelty and also anti-Semitic ideologies its probably best to bury this project back to irrelevance.

That being said, probably both due to his notoriety publicly and his widely received features, Trier was not limited to working on what he titled "The Depression Trilogy" which would actually go on to be considered some of his best work. Starting in 2009, Trier decided to go all in on the infamy of his name, and perhaps create his most self-indulgent title yet, Antichrist. If the name alone doesn't ruffle your feathers, (which trust me feathers were ruffled) perhaps it was the film's extreme violence, disturbed sexual themes or talking fox puppet that does it for you. We'll get to the fox. As Stone's trilogy on the war, or Scorcese's work with religion, Trier does explore the themes of depression if sometimes in the most ludicrous of ways on screen. His own battle with debilitating depression is treated by making these movies; one could wonder if Trier's reaction to the process as fun simply makes these films therapeutic without other intentions. Again, Lars Von Trier is considered for better or worse, "an auteur". Auteur is defined from Oxford Languages as: "a filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so great that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie." One critic, Jacob Matikainen examines the trilogy as a whole even claiming this is "as close as we'll ever come to sitting von Trier on the therapist's couch". He argues in favor of Trier's vision over the course of the trilogy, and the idea of him as an artist over simply a director. We will return to this article when examining the arc of the female characters in a later post.

Most screenshots of this movie are NSFW, sorry

And about that arc! These films all star the extremely talented Charlotte Gainsbourg who was not originally approached for the role of "Her" in Antichrist but showed interest in it after Eva Green turned down the role. (I wonder why.) She would continue to be in the rest of the trilogy, where Willem Dafoe, starring as "He" would not return. I would also like to note outside of the article I shared from the male writer, there's a fantastic Guardian article which features multiple female actors/producers and such each with their perspective of the film in 2009. I'll also note that there's quite a bit to get into critically with the film, which is very divisive, at an almost middling 59% on Rotten Tomatoes with arguments for its brilliance and depravity both. Of course the film was none so controversial as its release in 2009 at Cannes, which saw at least four walkouts during its opening. Obviously there was a religious backlash to the title alone on top of the film's dark approach to the tale of Eden.

The ecumenical jury at the Cannes festival gave the film a special "anti-award" and declared the film to be "the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world. Cannes festival director Thierry Frémaux responded that this was a "ridiculous decision that borders on a call for censorship" and that it was "scandalous coming from an 'ecumenical' jury".

The film dealt with multiple bans, censorship and denunciation from political and religious groups. Part of me wonders if the film was taken too seriously, the sex therapy between the two leads is ridiculous and hammy at points, or not enough. There is a talking fox in the film, one that says to Dafoe, (and was voiced by Dafoe) "Chaos Reigns". I won't lie this moment, serious or not, got big laughs from my audience at its release. And at Cannes? Where it was widely hated? The fox got a nomination for "Palm Dog", the yearly award for dog characters in film. Also to step back, I did see Antichrist in a theater, with one of my best friends. While