If you go down to the woods today… Well, just don’t. Danish provocateur Lars von Trier‘s arthouse psychohorror Antichrist is the most controversial film of the year — and the most gruelling. Written by von Trier while he was bedridden with depression, it sees Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a grieving couple who retreat to a woodland cabin to recover from the death of their baby son. But healing quickly turns to horror as their wounds are ripped wide open: hardcore sex, ultraviolence, emotional meltdown, graphic torture and, um, a talking fox. It’s a bizarre, powerful, audacious curio that’s tough to swallow but even harder to ignore. Having spent his career ripping up the cinematic rulebook with daring, dazzling movies like The Idiots, Dancer In The Dark and Dogville, von Trier calls Antichrist the most important film of his life.
Lars von Trier: I always thought it was a good title. It’s not really a horror film and it’s not really religious. So if it’s a good title for this film, I don’t know! But it’s a good title.
LvT: No, not really. That suits me fine. I could see that in Cannes that there were people beforehand that had decided already either not to like it or like it. But very few countries are going to censor the film. The only country in Europe that’s going to censor it is Germany. In America, we don’t know yet. It’s not a big problem for me.
LvT: Originally, we were thinking of younger people. But Willem sent me a letter asking if I had some work for him. And I said, ‘Sure!’ He was a little reluctant to start with, but then my wife did this brilliant thing. She said, ‘You dare not take the part!’ And you shouldn’t say that to Willem! So he jumped in.
LvT: We spent a long time looking for the female. And yes, Eva Green wanted to do it so we nearly had a Bond girl in the film! We had lots of discussions but her agents definitely didn’t want her to do it. We wasted two months. I was so mad, because you can’t wait two months.
LvT: Charlotte came in and said, ‘I’m dying to get the part no matter what.’ So I think it was a decision she made very early and she stuck to it. We had no problems whatsoever.
Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist.
LvT: After reading the script and discussing with me how those scenes were going to be made, there was never any doubt in her mind. That’s fantastic. And I’m very, very happy that she got the Best Actress prize in Cannes. It was a courageous performance because she is a very, very shy person.
LvT: We used porn actors. In fact, it was funny, for the scene in which she masturbates him and the blood comes out, they just kept on going. I could not understand it. And then someone told me that in porn you are not allowed to stop until the director tells you! So this poor guy was incredible…
LvT: Yeah, yeah, of course. But when you think about all the footage we now see from real life, I feel like you can show anything. But then when it becomes fictional, there’s a limitation. So it’s very strange.
LvT: I felt like an old man that was helped through the film by the actors. I was not at my very best, so all the things that I normally enjoy, I was not able to do. I couldn’t direct and handle a camera at the same time. I just didn’t have the mental capacity. I have been under therapy for several years.
LvT: No, but I don’t usually; I don’t trust her. Because she’s said for a long time, ‘Why are you depressed? You made the very best film.’ And I said, ‘But you haven’t seen it.’ She said, ‘Yes, but I know.’ Come on! How can you trust her? She’s very, very positive about whatever I’m doing in life. I love my wife very much. She’s fantastic in that way, because she supports anything. Absolutely anything. So I don’t trust her in that sense! But it’s very nice. It’s what you want, yes.
LvT: I don’t think about that. I kind of consider myself to be the public. What kind of film would I like to see? How would I like to be provoked? Then some of the audience share my views, some does not. Thank God, some people do react like me! This idea in Hollywood that you can produce a film that will hit a broad audience – and you do test screenings to see when people laugh – it would be impossible for me.
LvT: I was not there at the screening. But I think I can hear the different between that kind of laughter and laughter from somebody who has decided to hate the film from the start.
LvT: No, it comes from these Shamanic journeys that I did. It’s not like getting onto a plane! Yes, I am still afraid of that. You have a drum beat and you go into a trance that takes you into this parallel world. And there, I talked to this fox and it demanded to have a line.
Willem Dafoe in Antichrist.
LvT: Well, the first fox I met was a red fox. And it started to split itself to pieces. And afterwards, I met a couple of other foxes. Silver foxes with little cubs. And they said to me, ‘Never trust the first fox you meet.’ So it was interesting.
LvT: That would be very nice. Shamanic journey is very personal. There’s nothing religious about it at all. But it’s great fun.
LvT: An otter. Yes! It’s nothing you decide. It’s what popped up.
LvT: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I can’t even think about making another film at the moment. There’s nothing there. I like gardening. I’m sat in my garden right now and it’s very peaceful. I’m really a nature man. I spend as much time as I can in nature. I feel really safe there.
Antichrist is out in the UK on Friday and in the US on 23rd October.