REVIEWS: Nymphomaniac, Vols. I and II

8 07 2014

Nymphomaniac

There was understandably a lot of talk surrounding the alleged pornographic content of Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac,” a two-part, four hour opus on human sexuality.  It got plenty of coverage online – thank you, always horny Internet users who fall for the first click-bait title about sex – and I honestly was never quite sure if the actors were participating in live acts or not.

But I sat through the entire film (albeit in two sittings) and hardly found the explicit content to be the most off-putting thing about it.

In fact, it rather made sense for a movie like this to show sexuality so openly since it is literally about all the complications and eccentricities of the libido.  That doesn’t make it easy to watch, nor does it make portraying sex acts artistic.  It does, however, give them some sense of place (unlike the rather unnecessarily extended scenes in “Blue is the Warmest Color“).

No, what made “Nymphomaniac” tough to watch and downright insufferable at times is Von Trier’s seemingly never-ending supply of pretentious commentary.  He structures the film as a conversation about the travails of sex addict Joe, played with dogged dedication by Charlotte Gainsbourg, with professor Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard).  As they walk through her life, each provides intellectual commentary on the very nature of sexuality.

Von Trier clearly has a lot to say, and his appraisals can be quite enlightening.  Yet he writes the film in such a haughty, overblown tone that it can’t help but get quite aggravating at a certain point.  Von Trier supplies endless metaphors and then unpacks them completely rather than letting us explore them.  The experience of “Nymphomaniac” is akin to locking yourself in a room for four hours with Von Trier, who greets you from his ivory tower mentality with the exhortation, “sit down and let me educate you about sex because I know everything about it!”

Nympho

I’m not sure if this obnoxious affectation grew more pronounced over the course of “Nymphomaniac,” or if I just grew more annoyed by it with each passing minute.  Either way, I found the first volume of the film far more mentally engaging than the second.  Perhaps the vagaries of adolescent and young adult sexuality are just naturally more interesting.  The experiences it explores, from first discoveries of sexual pleasure to loss of virginity, are also far less out there.

Volume II takes a detour into more dangerous grounds as Von Trier tries to demystify more fringe sexual tastes like sadomasochism and pedophilia.  Von Trier is not ashamed of tackling taboo topics, and “Nymphomaniac” is all the stronger a film for not shying away from them.  But at times, it can’t help but feel like he’s pushing buttons just for the sake of pushing them (and sounding smart in the process).

If you’re not shocked by all the flesh or repulsed by the ideas in “Nymphomaniac,” you’ll find the experience relatively stimulating.  (Pun fully intended.)  Von Trier’s got a whole lot of talk, but his cast provides some pretty gripping action.  If you can only stomach the first volume, make sure to stay tuned for Uma Thurman’s one incredible scene as a woman indirectly torn apart by Joe’s insatiable sexual appetite.

And if you can make it through both, just try to grin and bear it through Shia LaBeouf’s scenes.  He tries to pull the center of gravity towards himself to highlight how edgy he’s become, and it gets to be rather distracting.  But in the battle of two egos, Von Trier’s ostentation easily trumps LaBeouf’s petulance.

Volume I: B-2stars
Volume II: C2stars


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One response

8 07 2014
CMrok93

Volume I was a lot better than the second one. Mostly because it seemed to feature von Trier in a creative mind and state. However, the second volume came around and pretty much did the same thing we’re used to seeing from him. Which, then again, isn’t terrible, but it isn’t all that surprising to watch either. Good review Marshall.

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