I have long wanted to see this film. With reports at Cannes of people yacking and running out of the theater, how can you not? Praise be to Satan for Netflix instant watch.
Our film kicks off with a dramatic sex scene between a couple, done in slow-mo with orchestral music blaring and gratuitous close-ups shown mid-coitus. As husband and wife move from the shower to the laundry room, their toddler son scales down the side of his crib and makes his way to the kitchen. He takes a chair and climbs up to the kitchen table, walks over to an open kitchen window and inadvertently steps out and plunges to his death below. After mommy and daddy finish banging nasty bits, they discover the tragedy which took place.
Heavily grieving and throwing many a guilty dig into her husband, the wife references a trip out to the family cabin in the woods the previous summer. The summer spent away with her son and without her husband to work on her thesis, seemed to reignite her pre-existing erratic and questioning behavior. She even goes so far as calling her husband aloof, distant, and un-loving. Couple that with whats only described as a strange event, you have the basis for a woman who's perceived as being very unstable.
As the wife spirals further into depression, she questions her husbands decision to be her main psychiatrist. Even though he has his own respected profession, she thinks that there's a conflict of interest and states that even his friend advised him not to pursue taking up her care. The husband insists and despite his multiple efforts in trying to be practical, the wife's only way of dealing with pain and confronting her fears is to throw herself at him in an attempt to make the act of sex wash away everything. The husband relents on several occasions despite his efforts in getting her to sensibly rationalize her fears. When things don't go well at home, he drags her out to the only place he believes will get her to confront everything head-on: their cabin called Eden.
Almost as soon as they arrive, strange occurrances take place. With each passing day, these occurances wratchet up in intensity and run in parallel to the different chapters which comprise the film (i.e. Chaos, Despair, etc.). An increased sense of impending doom is invoked with every event: a deer is shown with a partially stillborn fetus hanging from its backside, a talking fox gives a warning, and a tall oak tree falls over after the couple has a lengthy discussion about life, death and the role of the great oak in the forest. As the bleak picture is painted, the wife's outlook on things follows suit and she soon hits rock bottom.
We come to find out that the summer she had stayed in the cabin, the subject of her thesis involved witchcraft and the topic of women being persecuted. So consummed by the subject matter, the woods seemed to reach out to her while taking on a life of its own. And its here where the wife tells of her fearful experience. She further intimates that because of the experience, she has re-thought her thesis, giving us belief that the woods now hold some sort of power over her. Combined with her downward spiral into the utter depths of despair, this perceived power leads her to commit a series of heinous acts against herself and her husband.
This movie works on so many different levels. Many have commented on Van Trier and his pretentious nature and there certainly is a grandiosity to his work. But once you get past that, what you'll find is a richly painted, visually powerful and completely unnerving horror film. A film that is also shocking, both in terms of onscreen acts committed and actual concept. At its heart, lies the idea of the devil residing in nature and he has complete influence over all living things which stem from it, including those which bear life.
Also. during certain points, I couldn't help but think that the director had a less than stellar view of the fairer sex. Willem Dafoe's character was consistently painted as the victim even though he was battling with his own grief. Anyways, that doesn't detract from this being a truly remarkable and effective picture. And it contains two of the most disturbing scenes EVER committed to film (which subsequently had me curled up in the fetal position on the couch). What did you think?
(Ed. note: Doing some research on the film, apparently there is a great divide between folks who think this a unique and remarkable film and those that believe its overly misogynistic and needlessly violent. And apparently it was plagued multiple times by Von Trier's weakened mental state).
Cortez the Killer