2010-08-14

In Praise of Critics and 'Spoilers'

Spoiler Alert:  The following may contain spoilers about The Road and Antichrist.  Not any good spoilers, though, since both are out on DVD and I am just not ahead of film trends.  Yeah, if you don't know what I mention here just by seeing the trailers for these films, you're probably a moron.  Just read it.

What makes me declare an unseemly love, nay obsession with, critical reviews and spoilers for film and television?  Maybe I have slowed cognitive function due to extreme boredom, but I find modern day movies and programs difficult to follow without some idea of where the plot is heading before I actually watch the material.  Maybe my eyes are giving out from staring at computer monitors and digital effects in the Neuevo IMAX screen format that is being adopted by theatre owners who insist on half-assing the movie viewing experience.  Honestly, I don't remember the last time I got excited about a movie without getting a 'spoiler' that intrigued me enough to keep me going when plot lags threaten to send me outside to smoke in the parking lot.

Recently I saw The Road, an apocalyptic story based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, and overall desolate film.  I wanted to see the film for one reason:  one of the critics who I read regularly, Dana Stephens on Slate.com, mentioned in her review that the film depicted cannibals roasting a baby on a spit.  I don't know if I imagined that, or if Dana got to see a director's cut, but I sat through the plodding treck of Viggo Mortensen and Annoying Son for 2 hours, and I saw no one feast on cooked baby.  When the film ended in frightening ambiguity with Mortensen dead and Kid likely to die soon, all I could think was:  WHERE was the flame roasted baby??  More disappointed I could not be.

Lucky for me that there are directors like Lars Von Trier, who are guaranteed to inject every film they make with imagery so offensive it makes cooking a baby look like hugging a baby by comparison.  The time:  late last night.  The place:  my apartment.  The discovery:  Von Trier's Antichrist on Netflix instant download.

Who of all people attracted me with their review of this film than Roger Ebert.  Von Trier makes films that are intentionally controversial, looking at moral and social issues like sex, the death penalty, and in this case a couple with a dead baby.  There are critics who insist on being "offended" by his work, nonetheless.  It was either received with a shrug or declared complete rubbish by most in attendance at Cannes, but Ebert's review of the film as a shot by shot retelling of the story of Adam and Eve is dead on.  In fact, knowing what the film was about allowed me to really enjoy it.  It is actually a beautiful film that makes clever use of video to slip in special effects I have never seen before.  Let me be clear:  this is not a film for everyone.  But if you know what you are getting into (if you have seen any other Von Trier film you should know what to expect) this film is must see.  

After seeing Job redone in A Serious Man, how could I pass up a new version of the Fall of Man?  Von Trier's films are distinctly Catholic--a detail Ebert points out in the review.  Any time I have seen one of his films with a non-Catholic friend, now that I think about it they usually get distracted by the abusive behavior taken in spades and dished out in small doses by the female characters.  I have always taken this as the filmmaker forcing us and himself to look at fear up close and not turn away, even when it startles and triggers defense mechanisms like bashing him in print or declaring him a misogynist.  Doing so reminds me of reading A Streetcar Named Desire in high school and being so confused by the meaning I thought Tennessee Williams was a misogynist.  Too bad he was flaming, and Blanche Dubois was based on himself.  My bad.

So, in summation:  see The Road for Mortensen's performance as a simple, good guy just trying to survive while his son keeps challenging him with desires to thrive;  just don't expect baby pot pie.  See something from Lars Von Trier, but look up a plot summary online first.  If anyone's work is visually striking enough to shock you even when you know exactly what is going to pop up on screen, it's Von Trier's.  If you are craving some truly disturbing imagery after an evening devoted to a 'gory-yet-lame' film, he won't let you down.

2 comments:

  1. Now you have me uber-curious about what made Von Trier's Antichrist so shocking! I was expecting a spoiler. Where's my spoiler?! ;-)

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  2. OK, for those who want to be spoiled, here is the FULL Antichrist spoiler. No jokin' so stop reading if you don't want to know.

    Film opens with a couple having sex, during which time their toddler son gets out of bed and climbs on a window, then falls to his death. The mother blames herself and completely breaks down. Father decides to take charge of her recovery and do immersion therapy, going to the place that terrifies wife the most. This place is an isolated cabin in the woods where mother was writing her dissertation on gynocide earlier that year: she calls it 'Eden.'

    They go there, and wife reveals that while researching the killing of women throughout history, she came to the disturbing conclusion that women truly do harbor the legacy of original sin--that is, women have a connection to satan. She further explains that nature itself is the exiled land outside of god's protection, and nature is ruled by the devil aka chaos. Father refuses to believe it, mother descends deep into madness and finally gruesomely attacks father in the woods, mutilating his genitals. She then finds him again, apologizing and brings him back to the cabin. Strange events surround this, such as animals coming back to life and/or speaking, and strange visions of nature attacking the couple & the cabin. Father finally believes mother is a witch, accusing her of being the one responsible for all the bizarre visions. He kills her and burns her body in the tradition of Salem, etc.

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