Before You See “Antichrist,” A Few Other Romantic Films

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It doesn’t take a Harvard-trained therapist to know that with love comes madness, obsession, jealousy, mind-fuckery, fear, panic and a healthy dose of psychosexual terrorism.

Maybe these symptoms aren’t manifested in such harsh terms for everyone, but there’ s no denying that love is hard and can make you lose your head. For writers, this gives them material. For others, it gives them heartburn or an expensive trip to a therapist.

(Writers also get heartburn. I should know. But I certainly can’t afford a therapist.)

Now I’ve had my fair share of challenging relationships, often not even relationships but trysts, liaisons, flings and short-term get-togethers, all of which have made me lose my head in some way or another. Often the other person did too. Sometimes it was just a game. Other times the game-aspect only manifested itself in hindsight.

Sometimes it wasn’t love, but loneliness, or even worse, sexual obsession.

And yes, it makes for some good writing.

Usually, there was nothing worse in the end than tears involved, or long letters, or nights spent in bars, or Nick Cave on repeat, or getting the occasional sex-toy thrown at my head with the imprecation that “I was born alone and I would die alone.”

But what made me feel more human after such dramas was watching movies where the “man-woman-love-gone-berserk” dynamic was ratcheted up to Satanic degrees.  (Of course, by all means the “love-is-madness” theme in film doesn’t just happen between a man and woman; those are just the films I related to the most.)

I think the “Satanic” level applied to such  movies has been tossed around more than a few times in describing Lars Von Trier’s soon-to-be-released Antichrist. Here at The Rumpus in mid-May, Matt Singer shared some of his thoughts about the infamous Cannes screening of Antichrist.

Now it seems to me that Von Trier has a lot to live up to in the realm of “love-is-madness/violence/sexual terror/Libidinous mayhem.”

There remains many wonderful films that treat with graphic honesty and often shocking terror the limitless depths of “love” between men and women.

Damage – Want to know what happens when a well-to-do, respectable British minister (Jeremy Irons) falls in love with his son’s beautiful and mysterious fiance (Juliette Binoche)? BAD THINGS. Contains possibly one of the most spectacular stare-offs between two imminent lovers I’ve ever seen. Not to mention a sexual urgency that only Jeremy Irons, in all his tightly-wound, sinewy desperation can pull off. Plus Binoche is just captivating and sinister.

Bad Timing — A Nicholas Roeg film, featuring his wife Theresa Russell and Art Garfunkel, this movie is an excessively dire exploration of how a man trained in psychology can and will dominate and control a depressed woman. At least that was my interpretation. It’s disturbing enough seeing Garfunkle act the part of the Freud-indoctrinated, loveless sensualist BUT even more disturbing is watching him act it out physically on his comatose wife. I wouldn’t call this love but one of love’s terrible manifestations.

Audition – One of the only films that has ever made me truly nauseous, I can recommend it with a few caveats. When the horrific violence does occur, it is swift and unrelenting and yet it feels inevitable. When a widowed man decides to hold an “audition” for a new lady in his life, the odds are he’s probably going to pick the wrong woman. In this case, he picks a ballerina with an injury and a shady past. Gradually, he uncovers the harrowing truth and, unwilling to love her, he suffers a lot. Will cause you to forever fear burlap sacks and piano strings. And to ponder just how unfair love can be.

The Piano Teacher — Of course Michael Haneke is no stranger to controversy and this adaptation of the Elfriede Jelinek novel is rife with jarring scenes  and long takes that feel like at every second they’re about to plummet into unthinkable violence. However, he shows considerable restraint in telling the tale of an unmarried, 30-something piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert) who lives with her dominating mother and leads a secret life of voyeurism and self-inflicted masochism. Her life changes when her young and handsome pupil falls in love with her. She tries to control the trajectory of his desire at the expense of her own sanity and his. Huppert’s performance is among the most amazing I’ve seen in a long time. You never tell what she’s going to do next and even the least crazy things seems completely unexpected and startling.

Blind Beast — Will be brief on this one: A blind sculptor kidnaps a beautiful woman with the help of his mother. Once more, we have three parties involved in a sordid triangle of love and violence. The mother stands in the way, however, of his the blind sculptor’s pleasures. In his underground layer of sculpted breasts and bellies and elbows they sink into a senseless, mole-like world of sexual violence. This is an extreme example of love embracing the abyss. Happens sometimes to the best of us.

Finally, because I’ve run my mouth off for too long, the Holy Grail: Possession. I saw this movie years ago and remember snippets of it. It is now almost impossible to find. Starring Sam Neil and Isabelle Adjani. A man worries about his wife who has been acting strange lately. As simple as that. He follows her. Incidents of madness occur. The madness becomes anthropomorphic. A monster is born. Hints of Cronenberg taken to whole new levels.

Madness reigns. Such is love.


Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →