11 May 2013

Gender Imagery in Film, Pt. 6: Conclusion (Child Sacrifice and Supposed Female Dominance)

Interlaced into the aforementioned circumcision incident, the viewer is hit with the most devastating blow of the film: She watched her son fall out of the window to his death, and did nothing. The flashbacks to the prologue are cut at a different time and a different angle, revealing new information for our digestion. Even if we were sympathetic throughout the journey as She tortured her husband, identifying, even commiserating, with her internal psychological struggles, we are now left feeling like the carpet was pulled out from under our feet, leaving us dumbfounded and foolish for having even attempted to make a connection with her pitiful soul. She makes Disney’s Maleficent look like an innocent little angel – for what kind of wickedness it must take to watch your child die and not even make an attempt to stop it. On the contrary, it appears that she even gained pleasure at the moment in watching the event unfold before her – possibly provoked by the same boorish drive that led Abraham to nearly sacrifice his son, Isaac.[1]

Between the violent content of most modern action films and the images of trauma and catastrophe that the mainstream media displays, it is quite easy for the typical moviegoer to tolerate and even get pleasure from violence in film. Von Trier was not shocking anybody by depicting a woman who beats up her husband and consequently not leaving his mark on the viewer’s mind. Like Cruella de Vil and her nastiness toward puppies, the way to truly make She a hated character was to have her embody the unthinkable. Once this information is brought to light, She loses all likability, and von Trier’s goal of equating woman with all that is wicked and vile has been accomplished.

Left to her own devices, the Antichrist will reject nature, and her natural position as subordinate to man, and turn to a practice of dominance over all. Viewers can begin to see this unfold in Chapter Two as She becomes more deeply driven into her own mania. At the same time, the surrounding environment becomes increasingly more hostile toward He, visually tying her trip down the slippery slope toward iniquity to the effects on man in the world. Acorns begin to pelt the cabin, He begins to get bitten by some large beetle-like bugs, baby birds get eaten alive by ants and other birds of prey, and as the chapter progresses toward the next chapter, we begin to see the forest literally begin to fall apart. A wide panning shot of the forest floor shows the son, dressed in the same pajamas as in the beginning of the film, carrying his teddy bear, and glowing, walking, presumably, away from his mother – perhaps indicating that he is attempting to escape her dominance. It provides another new insight into the child’s death – that maybe the son was actually attempting to escape his own situation

In Chapter 3, He discovers from the autopsy report that the bones in his son’s feet were deformed and then finds numerous photographs amongst his wife’s study materials that show his son’s shoes on the wrong feet. In a reversal of the practice of feet binding of women, She has instead exerted her influence over her son by binding his feet. It is unclear exactly why She bound her child’s feet, but it can be certain that it was done purposely, further lending credence to the notion that the son was making an attempt to escape his mother’s power. Upon learning of this torture, He feels the whole of the forest’s acorns pelting his flesh – he has come to realize that his wife is the architect of destruction – and he is afraid.

She continues to enact dominance over her male counterparts further into Chapter Three, primarily through sex, even making an argument that her husband doesn’t love her because he refuses to hit her during sex. In a drastic display, She runs into the woods and, again associating her ties with nature, masturbates violently while wrapped up in the exposed roots of giant tree. He follows her out, compelled by her sexual urges, and engages her in sexual intercourse, while also folding to her wishes to hit her. As they perform, limbs of immobile bodies are seen knotted like branches into the tree – the seemingly dead arms signify yet another connection between her sexual drive and the deaths of the many.

Afraid that He is going to leave, She attacks him with a block of wood, even smashing his penis, knocking him unconscious. Again, driven by sex, unable to refrain, she proceeds to masturbate him until he ejaculates blood onto her clothing. She then proceeds to drill a hole in his leg and, roughly mimicking the crucifixion, inserts a metal rod attached to a heavy round drum, fastens a nut to the other side, and disposes of the wrench. He is left, quite literally, anchored down and prevented from leaving her. However, he does make an attempt at escape by dragging himself into the woods and hiding in a hole in the ground. Pulling away from the Adam and Eve myth and moving toward the tale of Jesus, the rod in the leg symbolizes the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, while the husband’s escape mimics the New Testament tale of the via dolorosa, or “way of suffering,”[2] as Jesus supposedly dragged himself and his cross, essentially, to his grave. While in the hole, He sees one of the three beggars, the crow, and for fear that the crow will expose him, he attempts to beat it to death. The crow is resurrected and She digs him out of his “tomb.” Once more, Antichrist is connecting the end of paradise to another aspect of religion and life – he, like many prophets and scribes before him, makes a connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament, however factually unsubstantiated and horrifically arrogant it may be.

In the end, Antichrist puts forth the notion that had Adam destroyed Eve, women would not have suffered over 2 millennia of hate and violence. On the contrary, woman would have been free to reclaim her position alongside man as a co-leader over nature. Ultimately, it is man’s job to free woman, as He freed his wife from her own torment, thus releasing a multitude of faceless women back into civility. As a man, director von Trier created a piece of art, aimed at other men, that allows them to affirm their own internal misogyny and to reestablish the social rules by which they live their lives. As Sturken and Cartwright note, “In the history of art, the fact that paintings were geared toward male viewers had as much to do with the commerce of art as it did with the social roles and sexual stereotypes of men and women”[3] – the same would hold true for moving picture media, as the most common method of conveying social meaning today. It is clear that the movie is intended to have male spectators, as the male part is characterized by rationale and seen, though very blasé, to be the film’s hero, and in turn the hero over nature, life, and misogyny. If a woman were to adapt a male looking gaze, she may well end up as She had, upon assuming the male gaze over her study materials: detesting herself and women alike for the “wrongs” of which they supposedly committed.

Ultimately, the final statement of Antichrist, and in turn, on Eden and life, is that everything that was once beautiful is no longer – and this is the fault of Eve. Von Trier’s morality makes women out to be immoral and malevolent and in turn removes himself and his male counterparts from any blame. This attitude can be easily summed up through Nietzsche’s view that in every artistic morality, “man adores part of himself as God and to that end needs to diabolicize the rest.”[4] We no longer require the Bible to tell us that women are the destroyers of paradise, because we have Lars von Trier. Let Antichrist serve as a warning of the effects of religious fear-mongering. In the words of the late, great comedian, George Carlin, “The Christians are coming, and they are not pleasant people.”[5]

[1] HarperCollins, Genesis 22:1-24
[2] HarperCollins, John 19:17-37
[3] Sturken and Cartwright, 79.
[4] Nietzsche, 152.
[5] Carlin, 8.

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