Saturday, July 25, 2009

Why I walked out of Antichrist...

Right now, you should be reading my review of Lars Von Trier's latest exercise in critic-baiting, Antichrist. Or, more precisely, right now I should be writing my review of Lars Von Trier's latest exercise in critic-baiting, Antichrist, and you would be reading it at a later date since this is a write-publish medium we are working in, not MSN Messenger.

You will not be reading my review of Antichrist because I walked out of Antichrist.

It's not because I have other things to do, I could certainly be using this time to review a more interesting movie like Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, the notes for which I've had lying around for two weeks now and I still have attempted to reorganise into some semblance of a coherent critique. I could even be offering you up a review of Babe: Pig In The City, which I just watched on ITV4, but I'm not going to. For the record, though, Babe: Pig In The City is a great film that I would recommend to anyone searching for a well-made and thoughtful fairytale.

I could be doing all these things, but I won't, because right now I feel the need to justify myself and explain why, after going to the effort of getting a ticket for one of the very first showings at The Showroom in Sheffield, I got an hour in to Antichrist before throwing up my hands and walking out. What follows is a justification, to no one other than myself probably, for my walk out.

Now, I'd like to say that I walked out because I was shocked. That something in the film sickened me to my very core and caused me to leave in a cloud of self-righteous indignation. Not because I like to walk out of films for that reason, but because I have yet to do so and I'd really like to experience what it is to actually walk out of a film as a sign of protest.

It'd give me a strangely perverse pleasure to slag off a film which I have yet to watch fully since it's the opposite of everything I stand for since, as a rule, I never walk out of a film. I even stayed for all of Martyrs, a film which I would rank as one of the most unpleasant I've ever seen, somewhere alongside Gasper Noe's Irreversible.

But I did not walk out Antichrist from disgust, or anger, or indignation.

No, I walked out of Antichrist from sheer boredom.

The rot set in fairly early with my viewing. The film begins with a Prologue which, being shot in black and white, slow-motion and featuring the most artfully-directed shot of penetration you will probably ever see, was almost parodically pretentious. The depiction of He and She having sex whilst their child walks out a window to their death was melodramatic in the extreme, more closely resembling a perfume ad than a film. I thought for a fleeting moment that Von Trier had pulled the wool over everyone's eyes, that he had delivered a film which was so overwrought, so ludicrously masturbatory that it would act as a satire on all future solipsistic arthouse flicks.

Sadly, that was not the case.

What followed after the Prologue was the first of the film's proper Chapters, 'Grief', which consisted largely of (lovely, lovely) Charlotte Gainsbourg crying and of (crinkly, crinkly) Willem Dafoe trying to get her to come to terms with her guilt by being a dick then fucking her.

There were moments in 'Grief' that held my interest; the thud of She (Gainsbourg) banging her head repeatedly on the rim of a toilet seat had just the right balance of weight and emptiness to make it eerily real; the visuals of the film were strikingly bleak; and Dafoe made for a compelling distant father figure. Gainsbourg was also magnetic as She, completely dominating proceedings even though she was doing little other than crying for the whole time.

He and She, in an attempt to deal with their grief, went to a cabin in the woods (going to a derelict cabin in the middle of some creepy woods has always been a good idea, historically) where She started to have some slow-motion visions that, again, were artfully done but lacked any involvement either on her part or on the part of the audience.

I'd like to say what else happened in the film, but it was at this point that I walked out. Despite the atmosphere of the film I just found nothing to engage me and I realised that I had better things to do. It felt so patronising, so aloof that I just did not care about anything that was going on; viewed in this light, the casual death of a child seem to me to be a calculated attempt to elicit sympathy for two boring and awful people.

I dunno. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for genital mutilation, maybe it was the fact that I was seeing the film at the same time that people from my work were heading out for drinks, but whatever it was, I just could not stomach sitting through any more of Antichrist.

I intend to watch the end, since I don't believe that I can offer up any concrete opinions about the film as a whole until I have, in fact, seen the whole of it, but after that interminable hour I don't know if I can really stomach it. I could do so much in the hour that would be required of me. I could watch an episode of The Sopranos. I could read several Haruki Murakami short stories. I could write two outstanding reviews. I could go to the gym. I could do any number of things other than waste my time watching a film which has resolutely failed to gain my interest through its own merits.

Taking the considerable controversy out of the equation, there just doesn't seem to be that much to Antichrist. It's got the air of a film made by someone who has seen a David Lynch film but doesn't actually know what makes them special. Everything about it; the stilted performances, the oppressive sound, the delves into surrealism reminds me of David Lynch. Even the detached direction have echoes of his work, but the film just lacks that spark. That depth, that, dare I say it, magic that can make nothing happening in a David Lynch film absolutely fascinating. When nothing happens in a Lars Von Trier film, nothing happens.

Now, I may completely change my opinion on this after I watch the remainder of the film. Maybe I will change my opinion completely and realise that it is a terrific piece of work. In fact, I hope that I end up really appreciating it, but for the moment this will serve as ventilation for me because, after an hour of it, I really, really hated Antichrist and was so thoroughly bored by it that I had to get this off my chest so that, when I do come to watch it completely, I will do so unladen and afresh.