Imagine what a film co-directed by the Stanley Kubrick who made The Shining, the David Lynch who made Eraserhead and the Andrei Tarkovsky who made Stalker (1979) could look like, and you're getting close to the idea of what Antichrist is.
The film centers around "He" and "She" (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, respectively) attempting to deal with the grief surrounding the death of their infant son, Nic. He, a psychologist, proposes exposure therapy at their cabin in the woods appropriately called "Eden", due to skepticism surrounding traditional medication-based treatment. Things go From Bad to Worse. Much, much worse...
The movie started a heated controversy during its premiere at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, with most critics praising the film for its technological accomplishments, while bitterly divided over its merits or lack thereof. Many detractors accused the movie of being deeply misogynistic as well as artless euroshlock. Not helping was Von Trier (facetiously, we hope) declaring himself the "best director in the world" and Gainsbourg winning Best Actress.
For the similarly-named trope, see The Antichrist.
This film provides examples of:
- Agony of the Feet: While alone with Nic, She used to switch his shoes, which caused small deformations in his feet.
- Animalistic Abomination: The Three Beggars, Grief, Pain and Despair, are represented as a doe, a fox, and a crow respectively. Maybe.
- Ax-Crazy: Between her increasingly frantic and illegible writings, her firm belief that women are inherently evil, and the excessively manic and violent behavior towards He, She fits this trope to a T.
- Big Bad Triumvirate: The Three Beggars, Grief, Pain and Despair, three supernatural beings who haunt Eden and caused the plot by driving She insane.
- The Blank: Pretty much everyone who isn't He, She, or Nic has their face blurred out. This also goes for the horde of women He sees in the end.
- Body Horror: While hiking to Eden, He finds a doe… with a stillborn fawn hanging off her. Later on, He runs into a fox in the process of self-disemboweling itself, and before that, He wakes up with his hand covered in ticks full of blood.
- Book Ends: Both the prologue and epilogue are Deliberately Monochrome with no sound except for Händel's "Liascia ch'io pianga".
- Chekhov's Gun: The wrench under the porch. The hole in the ground by the tree.
- Darker and Edgier: As Trash Humpers (which came out in the same year, coincidentally enough) was for Harmony Korine is Antichrist for Lars Von Trier; a new dark-and-edgy low in an oeuvre already known for its morbidity. It set the tone for Melancholia and Nymphomaniac after it.
- Death of a Child: The death of the pair's young son is what begins the film.
- Deliberately Monochrome: The opening and closing sequences.
- Drone of Dread: The entire soundtrack — minus Händel's "Lascia ch'io pianga" in the prologue and conclusion.
- Empathy Doll Shot: In the opening scene, Nic has a teddy bear which is shown in close up crashing onto the street.
- The Faceless: Apart from the two main protagonists and their son, the few supporting cast members appearing have their faces deliberately blurred.
- Fan Disservice: The only nudity in the film that actually appears sexy is in the first few minutes. The rest of it, such as She crying as she begs He to slap her during sex, then masturbating furiously in the woods when he refuses, isn't.
- Female Misogynist: She believes that women are evil and were tortured and killed in history because they were evil.
- Foul Fox: The protagonist comes across a fox eating its own insides. The fox snarls at him, then speaks with a deep human voice: "Chaos reigns."
- Gainax Ending: After killing She and burning her corpse, He manages to walk away, and then sees a multitude of faceless women, likely spirits, who walk towards and past him while he looks on in awe.
- Genre Shift: Starts as a Psychological Thriller, then progressively shifts to Psychological Horror.
- Gorn: A bit over-emphasized by the critics, there are actually only two short gore scenes, toward the end of the movie. That said, these two scenes are really, really, really horrible.
- Groin Attack: In both the male and female equivalent, both captured with excruciating detail, and respectively inflicted and self-inflicted.
- Intimate Psychotherapy: Subverted, she tries using sex to dull her depression, but this does more harm than good.
- If I Can't Have You…: She panics when she thinks He is leaving her. It gets very messy.
- Jump Scare: At one point, He approaches a fox hidden in a field, and as he reaches out to touch it, it jumps up at him with a dissonant Scare Chord.
- Leave the Camera Running: The movie is dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky for a reason.
- Minimalist Cast: Aside from some people at the funeral and the horde of women at the end, the only characters for the majority of the film are He and She.
- Nature Is Not Nice: Von Trier was inspired by a nature documentary which compared the animal kingdom to hell, among other influences.
- Never Trust a Title: The Antichrist never shows up in the film, nor does anything explicitly Satanic aside from certain references by She. The title comes from the original ending, where it's revealed that Satan made this world as opposed to God.
- No Name Given: The main protagonists are never named, not even in the end credits, where they are just designated as "He" and "She". The only character named is their son Nic.
- One-Word Title: Antichrist.
- Primal Scene: Inverted. It's shown that Nic didn't see his parents having sex, but She saw him jumping from the window, but this may be an intrusive false thought on her part, as a result of guilt. The film is highly ambiguous about this.
- Room Full of Crazy: Double subverted regarding the attic where She did her thesis studies. The crazy was originally regular research material for a dissertation about misogyny, but then She really began to believe that women are inherently evil.
- Sanity Slippage: She was already going cuckoo due to the guilt brought on by Nic's death. Then He discovers that She was putting Nic's shoes on the wrong feet, causing minor deformations, which is when She really goes off the deep end.
- Shower of Love: She and He are obliviously having quite explicit sex in the shower during the film's opening scene, even as their unsupervised young son accidentally falls to his death.
- Slow-Motion Fall: Nic falls to his death in slow motion in the opening scene.
- Snow Means Death: Nic is mesmerized by snowflakes before he falls out of the window.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The prologue combines the beautiful aria "Lascia ch'io pianga" with the images of He and She graphically having sex as well as Nic falling to his death.
- Talking Animal: The self-disemboweling fox He encounters is able to speak two words: "Chaos reigns."
- Thematic Series: Part of the "Depression" Trilogy along with Nymphomaniac and Melancholia.
- There Are No Therapists: Averted in that He is a therapist. Things get out of hand anyway.
- Yandere: She. Especially near the end.