Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) raised many an eyebrow in terms of imagery and analysis. I will attempt to comprehend it from a Lacanian perspective, NOT because this is the truth or the reality of the film, but because art is open to (elaborately justified) interpretation. It could or could not have been intended as such by the director but there are many lenses through which we can view it. I choose Lacanian theory. Once again, this is not the final word about the work, this is a mere proposition. (PS – Basic knowledge of Lacan’s writing and the film itself are required). In case you’re not into reviews, do check out the selection of film posters.
Antichrist can be seen from a vivid Lacanian perspective revolving around the acute process of symbolization of trauma by the Subject. Let’s examine this process through the overlapping dimensions of Lacanian theory and Biblical notions throughout the film.
“Antichrist” (2009)- American poster.
To put it very briefly, traumas belong to the real of the Real (the raw force which refuses to be assigned signification, which is not (yet) associated to language, which cannot be articulated by words). In order for us to live with them in our conscious life, we go through the process of the Imaginary, a distancing mirror phase in which we recognize that ” I am not the Other, the Other is not Me” by means of language. Language, lives up to its socializing force in the realm of the Symbolic, the realm in which all traumas are inserted, for us to be able to go about our daily lives. But not everything can be integrated into our waking realm. Gainsbourg’s (She) relationship to the world has 2 facets: Firstly, her rapport to Nature (the forest, the cabin etc.), which later becomes the scene of the massacre. Secondly, her rapport to Dafoe (He) and her access into his inner world. This intimacy, in Lacanian theory, is identified as the Real, the Real being the realm of no language, the lack of names in the film becomes particularly revealing.
Antichrist (2009)- French poster
Women, in the Lacanian model, maintain a privileged relationship to this Real (desire, trauma, intuition etc.) since they do not fully exchange this internal power for the Phallus (and its attributes), unlike Man whose desire and existence is completely dependent on the Phallus as Master-Signifier in the socio-symbolic order. Women get to keep this force. Language finds its strength in the dimension of the Symbolic. “Nic”, their son is the only character with a name, therefore completely symbolized. After his death, Gainsbourg and Dafoe, remaining nameless, revert back to a world where no symbolization is to take place; the Real in full throttle because now, Nic is gone. What is interesting here is that children are not considered such “agents of the Symbolic order” because, they too, have a privileged relationship to the Real up to the moment of their insertion through language. But the film, disregards or intentionally subverts this.
Antichrist (2009)- Danish poster
In Biblical tradition, Adam recognizes animals in the Kingdom of Heaven by means of language, through naming them. Eve mediates Adam’s relationship to the world and to God, she incites him to eat the apple, to internalize it and thus corrupts everything. She, because of this act and according to the title of the film, is a form of Antichrist: The opponent of Christ, the Other who resembles him but who will eventually lead mankind astray.
The Real is presented as a form of Deleuzian Encompasser, an independent and overwhelming space (the cabin in the wood) that antagonistically forces the subject to change the situation. Therefore, the namelessness of the characters is accounted for in this form of Biblical Real.
Antichrist (2009)- Australian poster
Next, the process of the Imaginary in the film, begins when She starts to refuse the treatment imposed by her husband, thus separating herself from him, his symbolization, language, status as a therapist, the social recognition he receives etc., basically all attributes of the Symbolic and social power. She reverts, once more, back to her Real, shying away from the society and its order.
The outcome of this Imaginary phase is the evacuation of “Jouissance”, rudimentary pleasure (which is part of the Real and which cannot be allowed in the socio-symbolic order). Jouissance in the film is exploited by the juxtaposition of the moment of sexual climax with the death of her child. It is both a physical Jouissance, the physical pleasure which she refuses to let go of, not even to save her son, and another kind of Jouissance that relates to our fantasies.
Antichrist (2009)– Italian poster
According to Lacan, the death of the Father is a fantasy, not at all the physical parent but the Name-Of-The-Father, the interdiction, the prohibition, the “No” of the symbolic order, you can call it the “Super-Ego” in parental form. The film transgresses this idea by inverting it, the fantasy here is now the death of the Son. Maybe because the Son also represents a kind of sexual interdiction, the difficulty of parental coitus for e.g. This interdiction, the attribute of the Symbolic, is once again clear through the Nic’s name in this realm of namelessness, his insertion into the Symbolic in the midst of the Real.
Ergo, to achieve the point of fully integrating such a trauma with the aforementioned order, the acceptance of the Master-Signifier is needed. And what is the Master-Signifier of the socio-symbolic order I hear you say? It’s the Phallus. The phallus as opposed to Jouissance.
Antichrist (2009)- South Korea poster
She uses sex as leverage a way to get around this and maintain her relationship to the Real where she doesn’t have to deny or let go of the death of her son, she doesn’t want to integrate it in the Symbolic, nor integrate herself. Her symbolic and not so symbolic castration of her husband (when she throws the log on his genitals) is a way of denial of the Phallus as Master-Signifier. Her attempt at giving him an orgasm right afterwards reinforces the importance of Jouissance to her.
However, although the film seems to go in the direction of the Real, She’ self-mutilation only reinserts her back into the order whilst she cuts off whatever direct link she has to her body, pleasure and nature. Her death at the end is the ultimate assertion of symbolic order not necessarily via the Phallus, but through the denial of the Real.
Now that you’ve had enough of the word “Symbolic”, I would like to state that this text is a bigger elaboration on a comment I posted on another blog a year or so ago. Once again, I am not AT ALL claiming that Antichrist is Lacanian in any way or that von Trier intended as such, it is a mere interpretation, as erroneous, ambiguous and false as it could be.
Written by Haneen H aka Kinofrau
I am the author of this text.
I am not the author of these images. All rights reserved.