Lars Von Trier's 'Antichrist' and torture porn as art aesthetics
Lars von Trier Antichrist torture porn anmeldelse

Lars von Trier uses torture porn aesthetics in his art cinema film 'Antichrist'. (Foto: Shutterstock)

Lars von Trier uses torture porn aesthetics in his art cinema film 'Antichrist'. (Foto: Shutterstock)

I think there is a connection between 'Antichrist' and 'Hostel II'. In both films private members are maltreated. In both films perversion is at heart. And in both films scenes of explicit torture, blood, and violence are central.

A minor difference is that one is film art, the other well crafted exploitation.

About torture porn David Edelstein (who coined the expression) wrote that »explicit scenes of torture and mutilation were once confined to the old 42nd Street, the Deuce, in gutbucket Italian cannibal pictures like 'Make Them Die Slowly', whereas now they have terrific production values and a place of honor in your local multiplex.«

He mentions 'The Passion of the Christ' (2004) along with 'Saw' (2004) and 'Hostel' (2005).

Art cinema with torture porn aesthetics

Earlier on this blog, I've discussed Torture Porn as a genre. I am yet unsure if it is one or not, but it is obviously a trendy aesthetics within contemporary horror, an aesthetics with old roots in the sixties' gore films and the seventies' splatter films. New is art cinema's infatuation with torture porn aesthetics.

Here is first a brief synopsis of the plot: While the protagonists He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) have sex in one room, their two-year-old son falls out the window in a second room and dies, while a machine is doing white laundry in a third room. He is a psychotherapist and decides to treat his wife's depression alone in a hut in the woods called Eden. She cannot get over her guilt and grief over the son's death. And to contextualize: Lars Von Trier has recently suffered from depression, more severely than he reportedly always does.

Since I expect most of you to have read the comments about 'Antichrist' in the media even if you may not have seen the film yet (go see it, it cements Von Trier's status as one of today's best directors, if not the best), I will reveal some elements of the film's loan from torture porn aesthetics.

Three big »ooouch«'es

First, maltreating penises is one perverse sight in horror; think of the castration scenes in 'I Spit On Your Grave' (1978), 'Last House On the Left' (1972), and 'Hostel II' (2007). But, to flatter Trier, I have not yet seen a woman slam a board down on an erect penis.

This was the first time the entire audience went »ooouch« with a deep sigh. Sitting on the fifth row at the evening of the premiere, I was wrapped in the intense feelings of discomfort that made men move in their seats around me. Clearly, the scene made an impression.

The second »ooouch« was when She slowly drills a hole into her husband's lower leg and secures a heavy grinding wheel to it. He is unconscious from the former blow and at her mercy. Yes, that made later fleeing a bit hard. Talk about feeling dragged down by a sour spouse! In Danish we have a saying that a person can be »a grinding wheel around one's neck.«

The third – and by far the largest – »ooooouch« came as She cut off her own clitoris, in close up and with no details spared. Yes, I'm not exaggerating. The same full close up we have when Beth cuts off Stuart's penis in 'Hostel II' and throws it to the dogs. We know these are special effects, which is why Von Trier jokingly at the interview in Cannes can say it was a scene they had to rehearse a lot because it could not be retaken.

More impressed than provoked

But 'Antichrist' isn't snuff. It is art in bloody close up that makes you want to look away, yet you stare in disbelief, disgust, fascination, awe.

To me, it was not a provocation. French director Gaspar Noé has been here before with his 'Irréversible' (2002), which to my taste is also a masterpiece, yet a smaller one and less visually stunning. And in French cinema they have the New French Extremity. Also, I was not provoked because Von Trier is doing is what all artists do: he breaks boundaries of good taste and established norms and synthesizes his own inner demons with those of society into film images of intense beauty and pain, images of humor and hell, and takes inspiration from the Bible, Hieronymus Bosch, and torture porn.

But I was impressed. 'Antichrist' is so multi-layered and suggestive that it would take a thesis to analyze it. I saw the film with my husband and a friend, and we didn't even get close to some kind of 'analysis'. 

I disagree with Richard Corliss who wrote in Time that »von Trier doesn't have the craft to bring the moviegoer along in the most extreme parts of 'Antichrist'. The thought was that we were being subject to the spectacle, not of a woman going mad, but of a director.«

My moment of bowing to Trier's audacity and genius came in the film when a mortally wounded fox turns its head and in a deep voice tells the male protagonist that »chaos reigns« . Indeed it does. Thanks, dear Lars, for sharing your madness and giving me an unforgettable experience at the cinema. It made me wonder about many things, among them the important role in our culture of perversion, torture porn aesthetics, humor, and horror films.

Go and see. There have been many reactions to the film. But if you didn't laugh at least at some point then you didn't get the same message I did. And remember: even a foxhole is not always safe.

 

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