Here’s another essay on film that no one will read.
This will spoil the movie if you haven’t seen it and want to in the future. Some things are best left as surprises.
Antichrist is a very powerful movie. Trier is trying to tackle and critique issues of misogyny and gynocide but he does so in a way that is…misogynistic. This puts me on edge and I’m not sure if these tensions can be reconciled - but that’s part of the strange beauty and insanity of the film. On one hand, Trier is criticizing the ways that women have been historically and ideologically damaged by patriarchy, particularly through male conceptualizations of women over time. Ironically though, the female character is portrayed as each and every one of these archetypes of femininity – she is pure corporeal body, catalyst for sin, irrational, instinctual, primal, hysterical – and Trier chooses to enforce these constructed visions of Woman rather than develop an alternative vision of femininity that could in some way, emancipate ‘Eve’ from this pigeon-holed male vision. She is active but only in a destructive way. Lier admits, yes, women have been wronged. But the response of this female character is to engage with her victimhood, to revel in it, to choose an active role only in a destructive capacity. And the act of self-mutilation is not an affirmation of powerful femininity – it is emancipatory, but its not emancipation from the cycle of victimization – it’s a sad acceptance (on the part of the character) that she is indeed only what ‘Man’ has told her she is, that she is indeed evil – and the act of self-mutilation is an attempt to free herself of femininity in all its forms, but particularly, that one component of femininity not capable of appropriation within phallocentric discourses – the woman as capable of pleasure, of choice. Strangely, she never castrates her husband, but she does castrate herself. This is a strange reversal that puts ‘Woman’ in an active role only so that she can deny any opportunity for active and autonomous femininity. It is also interesting that the mutilation does not prevent her fertility; she is still capable of sex and pregnancy and birth; only her capacity for orgasm, only her capacity for sexual pleasure is removed, by choice. So in this sense, without a clitoris, she better conforms to the idealized, stereotype of Woman as a vessel for male desire, without any opportunity for jouissance, except through the male phallus. The self-castration is a symbolic removal of that element of Woman that slides between pleasure-for-self and pleasure-for-Him (as an object for birth and male pleasure). In many ways, the film engages with these issues, but it does so in a way that consistently draws our attention back to the woman as the harbinger of evil.
At the beginning of her violent rage, she rushes into the room and accuses her husband of wanting to leave her, etc, and starts to fuck him. Again, the rage is a response to her need for the man – her violence is reactionary (regardless of whether or not it is founded in anything ‘real’) and reinforces the image of the woman as dependent on the man, not only in the obvious ways, but as a catalyst for her own activity and rage.
The film is obviously critical of psychiatry and therapy as a symbol of patriarchal ratiocination. Of course, the male is conceived as the ‘voice of reason’ who must teach (ie indoctrinate) his wife on how to control her body (in this sense, her physiological anxiety symptoms, her sexual desire and her violence, in that order). The result is that rather than becoming less of an animal, she becomes increasingly less [outwardly] rational by the conclusion of the film. The irony though is that if indeed Trier is trying to criticize psychiatry, by the conclusion we realize that *ta-da* she was nuts all along. Because of this, it is difficult to sustain that critique. Her psychosis wasn’t a result of the ‘manipulative’ and ‘repressive’ pressure of psychiatry, because she was crazy beforehand. The therapy is apparently one of many factors that brought her insanity into a more public space, but it wasn’t responsible for its onset. And by the conclusion, she’s not strong (?) enough to finish the job she started. She still needs him. He must destroy her, and he does, and this is acceptable because the crazy bitch must be put in her place. This is also a symbol of the ‘Man’ ‘killing’ the ‘feminine’ component of his identity in order to sustain that rational exterior. The dichotomy of male/female must be maintained. Trier never really plays with this. The boundaries are set up really quickly and each character never really passes out of their predetermined gender space.
There is a lot to say and write about the film, but one image in particular is insane – a two-part image. The first takes place when she runs out during sex and starts to masturbate under the tree (symbolically, the tree of knowledge, of course). She gets him to hit her and only then does she take him back inside her, etc. Pan out and we see (dead) female bodies entwined within the roots of the tree, surrounding them. This is insane on many levels:
1) ‘Eve’ invites and tempts ‘Adam’ into sin (the violence)
2) He can’t resist her ‘power’ which is purely sexual and tied to her body
3) She cannot achieve pleasure on her own, she requires the phallus for any degree of jouissance (which also probably relates to her self-mutilation later, the inadequacy of the autonomous female to achieve pleasure on her own except through the male)
4) Knowledge necessitates violence and destruction – the Fall is both a fall into knowledge and suffering, the two are intertwined and involve a dialectic explored in the passive/active interplay between the male and the female – he overpowers her because she wants and asks him to overpower her (ie. who is the active/passive agent in this situation, really?).
5) The ‘fall’ – this whole patriarchal, Christian discourse is founded on the sin and the suppression of the feminine (the bodies are the ‘sacrifices’ required to support and sustain this discourse, biblically and in relation to ‘gynocide’ of the 16th century, etc). The bodies of the women are entwined within the roots of the tree of knowledge to symbolize their role as the sacrifices necessary to sustain ‘maleness.’
The female character is sacrificed for the same purpose, later. I think the final image of the hoards of women entering the forest could symbolize a bunch of different things. They are the women ‘released’ from their position in the roots of the tree/as the foundation of Christian discourse/maleness. How this emancipation makes sense in the context of the films narrative, I’m not sure, although it might be related to the killing of the original ‘Eve’ figure as a means to emancipate all women from the ‘shit Eve started.’ This would be fucked up. The fact that the hoards of women walking in the forest are clothed and walking (aka not dead) also implies that they are women liberated from their ‘sin,’ from the flesh – they are covered and ‘imaginary’ women, suggesting that women can only ever really escape their essentially evil and destructive nature by retreating into Lacan’s imaginary realm again, as idealized concepts but not real, fleshy, active Subjects. Woman as Subject is problematic for Man.
But goddamn, Willem Defoe is super hot in this film.