Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, divided into literary “chapters,” is a horror/art film that meditates on violence, misogyny, sexuality, and the family. In the prologue, the child, Nick, falls through the window and dies in the snow as the parents make love. In Chapter 1, “Grief,” the man, a therapist, begins to treat his own wife, who has been in psychiatric treatment but remains incapacitated by grief. He takes her to the cabin where the family spent time the previous summer and she worked on a dissertation on Gynocide. Here he isolates her “greatest fear,” which seems to be the cabin and the surrounding forest and vegetation. (He sees the dear with the dead fawn hanging out of it.) In Chapter 2, “Pain” (Chaos Reigns), the couple arrive at the cabin. She runs across the bridge fearfully. The husband is covered in ticks one morning and acorns seem to attack the house in the night. (He sees the fox eating its own innards who says, “Chaos reigns”). In Chapter 3, “Despair” (Gynocide), the husband discovers her increasingly frantic notes for her thesis, which reveal that the woman came to “drink the Kool Aid” during her research and buy into misogynist idea that all women are inherently evil. He confronts her about this and she asks him to hit her during sex. He initially refuses, but complies when he finds her masturbating under a tree in the mud of the forest. They make love as eerie hands proliferate and emerge from the tree. He finds the photos of Nick with his shoes on the wrong feet and recalls that the boy’s feet were noted as ‘deformed’ in the autopsy report. The woman attacks him, crushing his testicles and then giving him a hand job until he comes blood. She drills a hole in his leg when he is passed out, attaches a grindstone to it, and throws the wrench under the house. The man drags himself into a foxhole, but a crow, buried alive there, caws and gives him away; it will not die no matter his efforts. He too remains partially buried alive as she goes to get a shovel to beat him. In Chapter 4, “The Three Beggars,” the woman apologizes and weeps when she cannot find the wrench to free the man. She says she does not want to kill him “yet,” but that “someone must die” when “the three beggars” arrive. In what seems like a flashback, we realize she may have seen Nick at the window before he fell and not done anything to prevent it. She begins to masturbate and cuts off her own clitoris with a pair of scissors. The deer, fox, and crow appear as a hailstorm arrives (perhaps her doing, as misogynistic texts suggested earlier. The man digs the crow up through the floor and finds the wrench as well. She stabs him with the scissors, but he strangles her and burns her body. The three beggars look on as hundreds of female figures with blurred faces climb the hill on which he stands.
What’s interesting about this film is the way it operates on the viewer as the woman does on the man’s body – it buys into its own needless violence, traps us, and throws away the wrench. Though the husband finds it and escapes, I am not sure the viewer is so lucky. One wonders what the affordances of this violence are, apart from the oddity of watching a woman be a bad mother and torture a man and child. The fact that she does this out of self-hatred makes it significantly less interesting to me, though I suppose you could read it as a comment on hysteria as a socially-produced phenomenon engendered by ideology. However, I think the film wants to frustrate all of our attempts to decode its images – the very symbolism we are handed in the form of “The Three Beggars” is meant to be in the world of her insanity, but it affects him as well, and is our only hope for making sense as viewers. What then? If the only patterns in the film are delusions, what are the payoffs of its violence? The truth of the film is indeed that “chaos reigns,” but since that’s uttered to us by a CGI fox, it’s more than a little hard to swallow.