Writer/Director: Lars von Trier
The absolute boldest thing this movie could have done is end on a redemptive note. To defy it’s morose and nihilistic themes and embrace legitimacy. To me, that would have been way more shocking, genuine, and responsible. But it didn’t. In fact, it seemingly built up to a gratifying ending only to soil itself. Why? I’m not sure. Was the artistic self-destruction what Lars Von Trier had in mind? Was “Nymphomaniac” a four-and-a-half hour set up to a thirty second punch line? If that’s the case, then you did it. You constructed something endearing against seemingly impossible odds, only to make it fleeting.
“Nymphomaniac” is the two part chronicling of a woman and her relationship with her sex-addiction. The story opens with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) severely beaten in an alleyway. A good samaritan by the name of Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), finds her and offers her help. She refuses medical treatment, but would like a cup of tea and a place to recover. Seligman takes her back to his fairly barren apartment and does his best to aid in her recovery. Curiosity gets the best of Seligman and he eventually asks what happened. It takes a bit of convincing, but Joe tells him her life story.
From a very early age, Joe was sexually ravenous. She’s been ready and willing for pretty much anything with anyone. Belittling the concept of love, when Joe isn’t sleeping, eating, or working, she’s pursing as many sexual exploits as possible. She does develop feelings for the man that took her virginity though. His name is Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) and he’s a narcissistic brat that condescends Joe every chance he gets. Joe must not think very highly of herself, but this is ultimately what she’s attracted to.
She eventually has a child with Jerome, but her lust never dwindles. She continues to see other men just to give Jerome a chance to heal. But a life without moderation catches up to Joe and her ability to feel sexual pleasure dissolves. To try and compensate for her numbness, Joe tries more sadomastic forms of pleasure. Eventually, her lust for sexual pleasure overrides her responsibility as a mother. Jerome leaves her and takes the child with him.
After a bit of self-loathing, Joe decides to embrace her sexual deviance. She joins a local mob syndicate and even takes on a damaged apprentice to take over when she can no longer break men sexually. Paths cross with Jerome and he is the one that pummels her in the alley.
As the movie plays, we consistently cut back to Joe and Seligman discussing the philosophy of her story. Usually the two volley over Joe’s nihilism and Seligman’s logistic approach. Neither of them are wrong, they just perceive the world differently.* In fact, Seligman reveals that he is asexual (makes sense as his apartment is practically a racquetball room filled with books). So, holding no prejudice toward Joe, Seligman is the perfect person to evaluate her life. Is she consciously evil or a victim of inherit depravity? Good question.
Being treated with unconditional kindness and the reflection of her life-story, Joe becomes incredibly elated. The world may be nothing more than chaos and her crippling addiction may have no purpose, but their is value in an attempt of betterment. Then, Seligman tries to rape Joe, she shoots him, and the movie ends. Well…shit….okay.
As soon as Seligman and Joe start speaking to each other, you just assume that there’s a count down until their interactions get sexual. A gun is even introduced and Chekhov’s principle states that when a gun is introduced in the first act, it must be fired. So to me, the cheapest, laziest, and shallowest thing “Nymphomaniac” could have done is end the way it did.
Lars Von Trier is a talented filmmaker. It’s often fun to debate the merit of his work. Is he using provocative themes and images to invoke substance or is he a pretentious shock-jock clamoring for attention? Watch “Anti-Christ” in a group. If you can sit through it, it makes for a great conversation. I believed the former. “Anti-Christ” and “Melancholia” are two unsettling, but well crafted forms of expression. “Nymphomaniac” proved me wrong. It dared me to believe the latter and convinced me to reconsider my assumptions. Then it ended.
All-in-all, I’m tired of ironically enjoying things. To me, having Seligman sexually pursue Joe makes less sense than having Joe’s head spontaneously explode, Seligman revealing himself to be a robot, or a meteorite destroying the planet. I was not shocked by the ending. It was what I would have assumed in the first five minutes of “Nymphomaniac.” It was a dull finale afraid of legitimacy. Irony is an easy shield to hide behind, but sincerity is where you reveal raw value.
“Nymphomaniac” is not a bad movie. It’s something worse. It’s just okay.
– What was Uder Kier’s rate for this?
– If you can, watch volume 2 as soon as you can after 1.
– I want to see Charlotte Gainsbourg in a movie where she has a good time.
* Joe does have a manifesto about black people that seems out of place.