Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe
Danish filmmaker, and perpetual lightning rod for controversy, Lars von Trier certainly wants you to think that Antichrist—his darkest, angriest film to date, made in a deep state of personal depression—is an anti-women affair. The story of two unnamed lovers grieving over their infant son's tragic death by crying and mutilating one another in an isolated, wooded cabin, Antichrist was made with the help of an actual, credited "Misogyny Expert," Danish journalist Heidi Laura.
But, having read any of von Trier's occasional interviews, his fans should know that the writer-director has a very sly, bleak sense of humor, and including a "Misogyny Expert" in his movie's liner notes seems like a preemptive, hit-them-before-they-hit-me strike. Think Eminem's self-deprecating battle rap at the end of 8 Mile.
As for the film itself, Antichrist presents brutal imagery that's difficult for any person to watch, but especially females—in one scene, for example, co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg uses scissors to snip off a piece of her own vagina. Such visuals are so shockingly graphic that they paralyze viewers into a purely reactionary state—a woman is getting brutalized by a man while also brutalizing herself, so Antichrist must be misogynistic.
Take a harder look at the film, though, and Antichrist is too complicated to so quickly categorize, particularly when it comes to Gainsbourg's role. She's stricken by a condescending, pretentious husband (Willem Dafoe) who's subtly repressing her sexuality. So what does von Trier do? He has "She," as Gainsbourg's character is so vaguely named, turn her internalized resentments into externalized vengeance against "He."
To properly analyze all that's going on in Antichrist would, frankly, require it's own list—"10 Reasons Why Lars von Trier's Antichrist Isn't a Treatise to Harm Women," perhaps. In the simplest terms, Gainsbourg's character's psychological complexities, and even her personal interests (for one, she's working on a thesis about misogyny), hint at deeper meanings and loaded agendas on von Trier's part. Hastily saying that von Trier's film proves that he hates women is to both belittle his art and refuse to dig beneath the surface.