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Throughout cinema history, there have been some iconic nude scenes that have transcended the bounds of the films in which they appeared. Our weekly column Anatomy of a Scene's Manatomy will take an in-depth look at these scenes, their history, their deeper meanings, and their legacy. This week, Willem Dafoe gets an assist from a German porn star for the opening scene of Lars von Trier's bleak 2009 flick Antichrist!

Prior to 2009, Danish provocateur Lars von Trier was never really one for subtlety, but anyone maintaining that illusion about him had it shattered with the release of Antichrist. The film has been viewed as both virulently misogynistic and militaristically feminist, operating on a wavelength that can literally send different signals to different audience members. While it's certainly more difficult to argue the film as being a feminist allegory than it is misogynistic, the film contains enough material for anyone to mount a convincing argument that is exclusively one or the other. 

This is part of the mystique that Lars von Trier has carried through all of his films, presenting so many strongly opposed ideas within the same film while simultaneously offending the sensibilities of just about everyone. This makes defending his films nearly impossible, turning anyone attempting to do so into an apologist, which seems to be his entire raison d'être. 

The film centers around a married couple known only as He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Following the death of their young son, She sinks into an unbearable depression and is hospitalized for a month under intense psychiatric care. He, a therapist himself, finds that after a month, the care she has been given is inadequate and decides to take her to their secluded cabin in the woods of Eden where he will attempt to cure her through exposure therapy. Basically, he will make her confront her fear of nature in hopes that it will help her to move past her grief. Needless to say, things go pretty steadily downhill for the couple from there.  

Back to the opening scene of the film, it's a moment of unspeakable tragedy presented in gorgeous black-and-white juxtaposition to a moment of utter ecstasy. He and She are having sex in the shower, leaving their toddler Nic unattended, and he ultimately falls to his death from an open window in their home. "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Handel's opera Rodelinda blasts on the soundtrack, the lyrics translating to "Let me weep my cruel fate, and I sigh for liberty. May sorrow break these chains of my sufferings, for pity's sake." Yes, Trier is laying it on thick, but that's what he does...

 

Now, despite the fact that we see Dafoe and Gainsbourg together in the shower, the hardcore insert shots were performed by German pornstars Horst Baron and Mandy Starship. This presages Trier's use of hardcore body doubles for Nymphomaniac four years later, though he would go one step further in using digital trickery to make it look more convincingly like his actors were actually having sex.

Baron stands in for Dafoe once more later in the film during a much more overtly disturbing scene. He and She have been at their remote cabin in the woods for a period of time. A series of circumstances eventually find him discovering that her thesis studies—conducted at the cabin the summer prior when she was there alone with their son—had centered around gynocide and her belief in the inherent evilness of women. He soon discovers that she had been intentionally deforming their son Nic by placing his shoes on the wrong feet and he goes to confront her with the evidence that she may have intentionally caused his death. 

She begins to initiate sex with him but instead smashes his genitals with a large block of wood and then, while he is unconscious, jerks him off until he, well, cums blood...

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Things only get worse from there, but with that being the end of Horst Baron's involvement with doubling for Willem Dafoe, I'll spare you any further gory details. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert praised the fearlessness of Dafoe and Gainsbourg as performers, and regardless of your opinion of the film, you have to agree that the film only works because the leads are such dedicated professionals. Neither actor was a stranger to controversial roles, but at the same time, they were both in a position to refuse the sort of things asked of them as actors in this film. It's a damn good thing that they didn't because the film would not be the same had they refused. 

It's also a damn good thing they didn't scoff at the notion of using pornographic body doubles for the hardcore elements in the film. The nudity itself isn't necessarily exploitative and both Dafoe and Gainsbourg certainly do their fair share of actual nudity besides the hardcore stuff. It's just nice to know that their director did at least give them an out to prevent any sort of further stigmatization of hardcore sex on film. At the same time, one can't help but wonder if those stigmas might've been at least somewhat lessened had they agreed to do the hardcore stuff themselves. 

 

Catch up with our other editions of Anatomy of a Scene's Manatomy...

Two of History's Manliest Men Wrestle Naked in Women in Love

Ewan McGregor Has Got It, Flaunts It in Velvet Goldmine

A Pair of Stars are Born in Y Tu Mamá También

Harvey Keitel Goes Hog Wild in Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant

Viggo Mortensen is Naked From Every Imaginable Angle in Eastern Promises

There's No Shame is Michael Fassbender's Dick Game

Kevin Bacon Steals the Show Going Full Frontal in Wild Things

How We Met Jason Segel's Dick in Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Jack Reynor is Uniquely Vulnerable for a Man in Midsommar

Jaye Davidson Knows All There is to Know About The Crying Game

David Bowie Battles Rip Torn for Dick Supremacy in The Man Who Fell to Earth

Al Pacino Doesn't Get In All That Deep for William Friedkin's Cruising

John Cameron Mitchell's Ass Gives Hedwig and the Angry Inch the Perfect Ending

Ross Lynch Makes One Sexy Future Serial Killer in My Friend Dahmer

Rocketman Not-So-Boldly Goes Where Bohemian Rhapsody Refused

Color of Night Brings Us the Return of Bruno's Dick

Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu Get Serviced in Bertolucci's 1900

Future Oscar Winner Mark Rylance Gets Real and Really Nude in Intimacy

Louis Garrel Lets It All Hang Out in the French New Wave Biopic Godard Mon Amour

Bronson Makes Tom Hardy and His Uncut Cock a Star

Henry & June Ushers in the NC-17 Rating with a Distinct Lack of Parity in Nudity

The Gay Cowboys of Brokeback Mountain Do More Than Eat Pudding

Pretty Boy Eddie Redmayne Makes One Very Pretty Danish Girl

Tom Cruise's Dick Has All the Right Moves

Christopher Atkins Rises Above the Curly Blonde Pack in The Blue Lagoon

A Pre-Fame Sylvester Stallone Shows Us His Italian Stallion

9 Songs Combines Real Music with Real Sex