Nymphomaniac Review: Bold, Thoughtful and Explicit
As you would expect from the controversial Lars von Trier and a film called Nymphomaniac
, you know in advance that we are not getting a shy, conservative affair and von Trier does not disappoint. The infamous director manages to craft a two-part movie which fans of art-house cinema will be salivating from the mouth over.
In a ubiquitous British town, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) finds Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) unconscious in an alley way. Seligman takes Joe back to his home where Joe tells him she is a bad person and tells him her story from her childhood, to young adulthood (Stacy Martin), to present day, reflecting on her sexual experiences and major relationships, while the intelligential Seligman and Older Joe philosophizing and interpreting her actions.
Von Trier does not hold back from showing various sexual activity and Joe's descent into sexual violence, as she looks for more extreme ways to get a thrill as her behavior and needs take a physical, mental and social toll on Joe. Nymphomaniac
is unflinching with its sex scenes, Joe getting hit hard during her sadomasochist sessions and showing of male and female genitalia of all shapes and sizes, including wince inducting moments when showing the harm on Joe's private parts go through.
Throughout the movie we see Joe's sexual journey, from her fascination as a child to her pleasure herself and seek fulfillment. There are many different aspects of Joe's sexuality during Nymphomaniac
, using sex as an escape when her father (Christian Salter) and the indifferent on face when she competes with her friend to seduce as many men as possible during a train journey. Von Trier explores many of the destructive aspects of being a sex addict, destroying friendships, being unable to form any relationships with partners and family, struggle to have emotional attachments and the impact that Joe's actions has on others. Joe is a character who rejects the idea of love and romance and leads to the question, does Joe reject it because of her upbringing, her addiction makes her unable to love or because is it because of her inability to loves makes her a sex addict?
The discussions between Older Joe and Seligman are a framing device and allow von Trier to explore the philosophical parts of the story. But this is when von Trier spells out his views and meanings of the movie. Both Older Joe and Seligman are used discuss to complex mathematical theorems, religious iconography, the meaning of words and morality. But to be fair, some of the elements do require specific knowledge so some explanation was needed.
's cast features von Trier regulars, established talent like Jamie Bell and Uma Thurman and new actors with Stacy Martin, Sophie Kennedy Clark and Mia Goth. The performances range from good to excellent and the new young actresses do show real talent, as they give fantastic performances.
The let down in the cast is Shia LaBeouf. It is easy to mock LaBeouf because of his recent off screen antics, but his performance was hampered when you can play guess the accent. My own personal guesses were Scottish, Irish, New Zealander and South African and other people's guesses ranged from Cockney, Australian and Scandinavian.
Von Trier and his cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro were able to combine both a grim, kitchen sink realistic aesthetic, while also making sure von Trier adds artistic flourishes, as he uses graphics, text and cross cutting to various images. Despite some of the heavy themes and imagery, von Trier made sure moments dark humor and wit to help lighten the mood and prevent Nymphomaniac
from being too depressing as an experience.
is an interesting, thoughtful movie that is more than about controversy and titillation. Filled with a mostly excellent cast, Nymphomaniac
should please fans of von Trier and art-house cinema.