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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton




Director Lars von Trier (2009)

Guilt is a terrible thing. Not being guilty but feeling guilty. It happens in your head and it's a self-destructive force. It can also be a powerful motivator, as religion has discovered. Guilt lies at the heart of the Christian myth, in the original sin. Although Adam, of course, managed to transfer his guilt by blaming Eve. The minx.

In Antichrist Lars von Trier takes us deep inside the heads of two guilty parties named He (Willem Dafoe, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, just like Fred Trueman) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg, sinuously lubricious, just like her mum). Clearly, like Adam and Eve, they are meant in some way to represent all of us. Also like Adam and Eve He and She are alone. They do not appear to us as part of a human society. The only other character is their baby son, whose death triggers their long agony of guilt.

He fell out the window, you see, while they were in the middle of a particularly distracting shag. Like Adam and Eve they are guilty of being sexual beings.

And like Adam He seems at first less guilty than She. Because He's a therapist, a scientist, a rationalist and is able to think through these things and put them into perspective. And he can help her get beyond her soppiness, too. By taking her to confront her anxieties where she feels most anxious, at their country retreat which, as you've by now guessed, is called Eden. With disastrous consequences.

She's guilt is externalised in the woods. "Nature is Satan's church," she tells us and as a woman she's on the side of nature. So you see where this is leading.

I won't spoil it any more as I had my eyes shut for much of the last half of the film. The manifestations of a guilty conscience make for some ugly material. But Antichrist is not, on a superficial level, an ugly film at all. It's a gorgeous film.

Take the opening prologue. Shot in super slow motion black and white its beauty estranges tragedy, and estranges the sin, too. Dafoe's nob (or is it a stuntman's? The debate will rage), the biggest screen nob since Patrice Leconte's Ridicule, appears like an adult version of those puzzles in kids comics, where you have to guess what an ordinary everyday object is from very close up. (What's that...? Oh I see. Ho!)

While wrapping you protectively in sheer wonder it also takes you elsewhere, to other films. It's impossible, unless you somehow haven't seen it, to not think of Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now during this beginning. The baby is even called Nic, without a K.

This is all aesthetic compensation for the horror of guilt, which does ultimately burst through the pretty pictures shudderingly, sickeningly, and you walk out of the cinema on wobbly legs.

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