Antichrist opens with a prologue shot in drop-dead gorgeous black and white by Anthony Dod Mantle, taking place entirely in slow motion as a piece from Handel's opera Rinaldo, and depicting an unnamed couple played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg having what looks to be pretty fantastic sex (for the most explicit bits they were doubled by Horst Baron and Mandy Starship, respectively) while their toddler son Nic (Storm Acheche Sahlstrom) crawls onto a table, through an open window, and falls to his death in relentlessly beautiful snow. He hits the sidewalk just as the music crescendos and Gainsbourg's character climaxes, wearing a look of mixed pain and joy, and I thought to myself, "Lars von Trier can't really mean for us to take this seriously, can he?"

Later on, Dafoe encounters a dying, bloody fox in the woods. Abruptly it leaps up with a CGI snarl and speaks to him in a guttural voice that sounds like somebody's best parody of The Exorcist, "Chaos reigns!" And I thought to myself, "Lars von Trier absolute doesn't mean for this to be taken seriously".

Even later, Gainsbourg uses a pair of ancient-looking scissors to cut off her clitoris, and I thought to myself, "Fuck you, Lars von Trier, and your fucking little games".

It is likely that I have given away a spoiler by mentioning the clitorectomy, but if I write something here that is the sole reason somebody doesn't bother seeing Antichrist, then I have done a good day's work of criticism indeed. I don't find it loathsome, exactly - though it's easy to see why that would be the case. It is not a film that made me as desperately angry as von Trier's Dogville, for example; just sullen and depressed. What I really had a problem with is the film's resolute lack of a point: it picks up two characters, sets them in a wooded hellscape pointedly named "Eden", and watches them be insane. Maybe there is a point, I should be fair, but it would have required engaging with the film to figure out what that point is, and when I figured out that von Trier is basically playing a massive joke with this movie I lost all interest in doing anything but getting out of the theater (at this time, Antichrist holds the 2009 record for the most times I checked my watch waiting for it to end, at five).

Taken on its own terms, Antichrist is an art horror movie so pretentious that it makes you want to pound carpet tacks into your flesh. But I don't think it really needs to be taken on those terms. What terms it is to be taken on, I haven't quite decided. The plot specifically concerns Gainsbourg's aberrant grief patterns, or some such psychobabbly phrase, and her therapist husband's highly unethical decision to treat her himself, which means a blurring of the lines between doctor and spouse that gets trampled over every single time they have sweat, borderline-pornographic sex, which is quite often. Anyhow, Dafoe finds that she has a morbid fear of their home way out in the Washington state forest (played by the woods of Westphalia, Germany, because of von Trier's famous hatred of trans-Atlantic travel), so he naturally takes her there; all sorts of creepy shit follows, involving Gainsbourg's unfinished thesis about the demonisation of women in history, the Three Beggars, animals signifying grief, pain, and despair, and Dafoe's attempt to unpack what his wife means by the statement "nature is the church of Satan", a line that would make Werner Herzog blush in sympathy for the natural world.

I disagree with those that argue the film is misogynistic, for it certainly has nothing on Dogville or Breaking the Waves in that respect; it's really just flat-out misanthropic. Without doubt, von Trier wants us to think that Antichrist exhibits misogyny, because he is an imp of the perverse, and this movie is a calculated attempt to flip certain people off. To that end, he has made it look pretty damn exploitative, but it's a fake, shallow exploitation, and I think this is my biggest problem with the movie. It's so smugly pleased with how Shocking! it all is, but it's really not anything but distasteful - the kind of movie that crows about how outraged you will be by its outrageous sexual violence, which consists of the aforementioned clitorectomy and a scene of Gainsbourg masturbating on a tree made of corpses. I'm sorry if I really don't see the point, especially since, as far as shocking exploitation goes, it's too gaudy to be anything but silly.

The whole thing just doesn't add up to more than an elaborate punking, and I think what bothers me is that I don't understand who it is that's being punked. The director's detractors? His fans? Charlotte Gainsbourg? I can say with certainty that the movie's philosophy is nearly as facile as its exploitation, which leaves us with something too thin-blooded to be taken seriously on any level, yet at the same time something far too aggressively nasty in every way to laugh at. It's a film to be endured, though what benefit comes to the viewer for having endured it, I cannot even begin to imagine. The cinematography and production design are both hypnotically lovely, and one gets the feeling that if von Trier ever wanted to make an actual horror movie and not a bullshit art-house horror movie with lots of genitalia, he could probably do a pretty decent job of it. But that's not much of a reason to sit through a movie. Like I said before, it really just put me in a bad mood without any other form of catharsis or enlightenment, and the only part of it that really offended me is that this shambling messy shitpile was dedicated to, of all random people, Andrei Tarkovsky, who could have outdone von Trier's freshman-level religious symbolism blindfolded with both of his hands cut off.