Oh, Lars Von Trier, you nutty cinematic prankster! Could anyone else have so beautifully juxtaposed a couple fucking (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) while their toddler son climbs out of a window and falls to his death? And that's just the opening scene.
Naturally, they're overcome with grief. Or at least she is (Von Trier doesn't give them names, just he and she in the credits). You assume he's hurting, too, but she is so grief-struck she's hospitalized. He, on the other hand, tries to help her--he is, after all, a therapist. That already makes me hate him (but that's my own issue), and more so when he ignores the standard advice against treating his loved ones. And he treats her in a cold, smug manner as if he has all the answers.
Anyway, they move out to their cabin in the woods to get away from everything and she can finish her dissertation on gynocide. They grieve, they fuck, they grieve, they fuck some more. Weird animals show up in the woods, revealed in chapters. There's the deer of grief, fox of pain, and crow of despair (or something like that I know it was deer, fox, and crow, but I don't recall if I got the emotions matched right). Things go from bad to worse, ending with graphic, brutal abuse, torture, and mutilation. Yes, there's a graphic self-clitorectomy, which has been mentioned in just about every review I've read. Yeah, that's a spoiler, but I was so happy to be prepared for it that I'm not going to worry about spoiling it (it's not something I really wanted to be surprised by).
So it's a bleak, despairing movie that really has no uplift in the story. But it's beautifully shot, has a hypnotic soundtrack, and won't leave my brain. I'm sure it's allegorical (especially the parts with the animals), but it seems the allegorical form has been mutated and perverted. Allegory can be used to sidestep and replace the literal and graphic with something more palatable. But here there's no allegory for genital mutilation--the mutilation is literal and graphic. And if that's an allegory for something, you're doing it wrong (but probably on purpose).
I don't know if any of this makes sense. I started by saying Von Trier is a nutty cinematic prankster. I base that on his career, not on this movie alone. I'm not sure this is a prank at all, and I'm not sure if I'd be more afraid of him if it was or if it wasn't. I just don't know what to make of it all.