Lars von Trier, once a gravely exciting artist (Breaking the Waves), has reduced himself to the status of a quixotically perverse publicity freak. Antichrist, his latest fake outrage, is an art-house couples-therapy torture-porn horror film. It opens with a slow-motion black-and-white prologue, scored to a Handel aria, in which two parents (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) make graphic love in the shower as their toddler steps out a window and falls to his death. The scene is shot like a music video, which suggests its underlying message: Von Trier now sees tragedy as cool.
The husband, a professional therapist, tries to ease his wife's grief with too much smugly detached calm, and so it doesn't take us long to see where their healing is headed: to a war of patriarchal control and ''unreasonable'' feminine rage. For half an hour or so, the movie casts a Bergmanesque psychodramatic spell. But then the two go to a cabin in the woods, at which point Antichrist doesn't deepen so much as it unravels. Von Trier throws in many devices (symbolic falling acorns, half-butchered talking animals), but the one real dramatic trick he has up his sleeve is pain. As in torture. As in... mutilation as marital catharsis. The trouble is, it's all too exhibitionistic to ring true. The impotent folly of Antichrist is that von Trier has made it his mission to shock the bourgeoisie in an era when they can no longer be shocked. C