Over the months, there has been incredible hype for the new film by writer-director Lars Von Trier. The film is Nymphomanic and it stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, already a staple in the previous two Von Trier films (Antichrist in 2009, Melancholia in 2011). Lars Von Trier has increasingly made his films more provocative, setting him out further and further into the realm of indie film than he has ever been before.
Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac has been promoted as his most
daring film, and to be sure it is a daring film. As the title (and Von
Trier’s rep) might suggest, the movie would be filled with extreme graphic
sex. And while there are scenes of that, they are in no way as graphic as one
might assume. That is important to know for those that may be separating
themselves from viewing Nymphomaniac because of what is thought to be there.
The story centers on the character of Joe (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg). She has chosen a lifestyle of rampant sex in order to appease her inner ego, which has taken her towards a bad end. As she grows older, she soon finds that sex doesn't fulfill her as it had in her earlier years. That setback directs her toward a bramble-patched dirt road of poor choices in order to regain the early experiences that kept her engaged in her pursuit of orgasmic pleasure. Needless to say, the results all have bad endings.
As the story begins, Joe is found beaten in an alley. She is assisted by a passerby, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), who helps her to his apartment. There, as Joe recovers from her wounds, she recounts the story of her life in chapters, moving from one debased period to the next.
Without exposing too much of the storyline, we see Joe go from the playfulness of self-appeasement to multiple partners, from self-abuse to interracial sex, from sadomasochistic experiences to same sex experiences—all designed to lead her back to the orgasm that she has lost along the way.
Interestingly, as Joe recounts her tales to Seligman, he applies metaphorical weight to the comparison of Joe’s experiences to religious histories. This creates a philosophical tension between the experiences of a girl, and their possible religious counterparts. But that’s the way Von Trier rolls. It would require a study of the film in order to work out the details of their inclusion and explorations.
What we eventually get out of Nymphomaniac is an in-depth look into the intricacies of sex. Sex is portrayed as the end-all, be-all of human existence. We use it to gain pleasure, to exert power. It's used as a tool and as an expression of love. When discussed though the agency of a person who has used sex in every way, we dive into a philosophy of love and the realities of sex, exposing it for what it is usually never seen as, a meaningless experience. Often, it is viewed as a heartbreaking experience.
In the end, both volumes of the combined 241-minute film have delivered a provocative story worthy of its viewing. The Blu-ray contains both volumes on two discs, both unrated to allow for the complete intended impact. There is a special feature included, which involves several of the core actors (Shia LeBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin (who plays young Joe), and Charlotte Gainsbourg) engaged in discussions of the notable director of the film, as well as the sex the film uses to give mileage to the film’s philosophical commentaries.
If you have found Lars Von Trier an engaging director of intriguing films in the past, then you will find Nymphomaniac to be an important continuation in his body of compelling films.