Lars von Trier
8/10 (maybe the most gruesome, misogynistic, disturbing thing you will ever see; script problems; possibly pointless)
I am pretty certain that this is the most disturbing film I have ever seen. The only other three that come to mind are “Eraserhead,” “Irreversible,” “Salò.” It’s also the only film where I’ve actually had to avert my eyes to avoid seeing what was on screen. Not a pleasant experience, but a powerful one.
The film opens with a super slo-mo prologue backed by a haunting classical piece that involves the main characters (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) engaging in passionate and graphic sexual intercourse while their toddler son climbs out of his crib, wanders over to an open window and plummets several stories to his death on the snowy pavement below. Whatever else you may think about it, seeing a penis penetrate a vagina at 1,000 frames per second gives you a decent idea of what to expect in the rest of the film. Or at least it tells you to watch out, because this director clearly doesn’t give a shit about throwing truly shocking images at the average filmgoer.
The rest of the film deals primarily with the mother’s grief process, as her therapist husband tries to recuperate her back to emotional and psychological health. During the process they discover that she has strong emotions surrounding their summer retreat, an isolated forest cabin they call “Eden,” so they decide to go there. Things get really weird fairly gradually, until about the last twenty minutes when director Trier goes completely off the deep end.
Let’s start with the positives. This is the same director of the masterpieces “Dogville” and “Breaking the Waves,” and the almost-as-interesting “Dancer in the Dark” and “The Idiots.” He is the self-proclaimed “best film director in the world,” and despite his unrepentant arrogance I’m inclined to agree. I certainly find myself more impressed with each film of his that I see.
The cinematography of the film is simply stunning, and each image seems designed to evoke an ethereal beauty, or a haunted dreamscape. Reading other reviews you consistently come across the word “lush” to describe the visuals of the film, and I can’t think of a better one.
Additionally, you have a miraculous performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who not only literally bares all and exposes herself in the most vulnerable way imaginable, but does it with such skill and passion that one could recommend the movie for her performance alone (she won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009). Lars von Trier has an amazing ability to elicit perhaps the best acting performances of the modern era from his leading ladies (Nicole Kidman in “Dogville,” Emily Watson in “Breaking,” Bjork in “Dancer”). Willem Dafoe’s performance was hailed as “courageous” — and indeed I agree given the graphic sexual nature of the role — but I found his acting merely adequate, especially in comparison to Gainsbourg.
The problem with the film comes from the script. Not only is there very little plot development (you go from one “discovery” to another by the therapist in analyzing his wife’s condition, none of which really make sense when you think about them), but the ending just leaves you too shocked to be truly effective.
For about 3/4 of the movie you are intrigued, creeped out and genuinely gripped. But then in the space of about two minutes, Gainsbourg flips out, essentially out of nowhere, and you’re left wondering what the hell is going on and where this came from. It just doesn’t fit with the slow, deliberate pacing of the entire film up to that point, and it takes you completely out of the film as a viewer. I was left just as a slack-jawed spectator, one step removed from actually participating in the movie, amazed at what I was seeing and vaguely trying to figure out what Trier was going for. And no, not in a good way.
The whole thing is vague and conveys a nagging feeling of meaninglessness. I’m not sure that Trier knew what he was really trying to say, and the confusion is definitely transmitted to the audience. He admitted that he wrote this film after battling a severe two-year-long depression, and that he was only about halfway invested emotionally and intellectually during the making of the movie. I’m sorry to say that it shows, because I greatly admire the man as a filmmaker.
Of course, the message of the film is, on its face, so misogynistic as to be appalling. Because Trier is undoubtedly brilliant, I have always balked at those who label him a misogynist (almost every one of his film involves a woman suffering unimaginable horrors). But after seeing this I have to wonder deeply.
Here, Trier was either trying to convey a feminist position in such a subtle way as to completely invert the accepted conventions on feminism and sexism, or he really does just enjoy seeing women suffer cruelly on film. I guess the third possibility is that he doesn’t know what he was trying to convey, but that perhaps his latent misogyny gushed to the surface while filming slivers of his dreams and other subconscious ramblings.
I can’t say I wholly recommend this film, but it’s certainly interesting. Fans of Lars von Trier can’t in good faith avoid it. And even if you hate it, there’s no denying the impact, or the visceral response you get from seeing what Trier has to show you.
21 May 2010