Man succumbs to the deviltry of his antithesis, his masculinity replaced by emotional impotency, both victim and abuser of Mother Nature. Lars von Trier’s season in hell exorcizes his own personal demons through the dark glassily; the nameless characters avatars of human conceit, both lost amid their own secret gardens.
The film begins in a monochrome snowfall, the couple making love while their son tumbles like spun clothes. Cut to color and a month later where the woman is hospitalized in a deep depression while the man, a psychologist who seems cold like a hard rain and just as expressionless. He begins aversion therapy with his wife, discovering her atypical fear and confronting it, his relentless ego a brooding shadow upon her senses. She is inexplicably afraid of their summer cottage named Eden, where the previous summer she gave up working on her thesis about the Salem witch trials. He forces her to confront each aspect of this wicked landscape and it soon subsumes her…and him.
Trier’s maddening narrative remains elusive in meaning and ripe in interpretation: is she suffering from the trauma of her lost son? Does she become possessed by some feminine malignancy represented by Nature? Cause and effect has been erased and reversed blurring the lines between external horror and internal conflict: in this storm only chaos reigns (rains). We begin to suspect that she has loathed her husband for some time, and had begun torturing their son the summer before. In a revisionist flashback, we see her cruel eyes focus upon their son moments before his fall from grace as if she could have saved him…but chose not to. Her passion has transformed into hatred, and sex becomes a violent weapon whose edge cuts both ways.
The lush cinematography imbues this world with a vibrant realism underscored by a damnable crescendo of entropy. The violence is brutal and anarchic, the comfortless man suffering the trials of 17th century women while his wife becomes tormentor. Their roles reversed, she is consumed by her masochistic behavior while his lament blossoms into a spiritual awakening: he is finally embraced by the ghosts of woman past, and becomes a daughter of the dust.
Final Grade: (B+)