Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 (2014)

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Beyond this warning, there is language, images, and content that deal with mature themes and may offend some viewers. Reader discretion is advised.

It astonishes me, and I guess it’s quite comical…rather depressing actually when you think about it, that we as a species have come all this way, evolved and conquered, created technological wonders, been to the outer reaches of our solar system and back, just to continue masking our stimulation and excitement in social predicaments with excessive, uncomfortable, unwarranted laughter, brash throat-clearing, peculiar postures and odd hand placements, simply due to the fact that, for some reason, we are ashamed of this extremely common reflex. I bring this up because the audience behaved and reacted in such a way while we watched Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac: Volume I,” and it got me a little infuriated…but also  because the film itself somewhat illuminates this restraint put on our most primal, primitive instinct by humanities non-sensical self-embarrassment, but I digress. It baffles me is all.

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Just by glancing at Lars Von Trier’s latest film’s title, “Nymphomaniac: Volume I,” one is fairly sound in deducing the kind of premise, content, and imagery to be expected. You know, the kind of unflinching, raw material that can make even the most indifferent, cold-blooded being blush. I mean, what else should one anticipate from the master of honesty and controversy? With a title like “Nymphomaniac,” you can bank on Trier presenting a lot of skin, sex, and depravity for the whole family to enjoy.

We follow Joe, played by the magnificent, fearless Charlotte Gainsbourg, who essentially will comply with any role Trier requests. Joe is found by Seligman, who is brought to life by the incomparable, tragically underrated Trier vet Stellan Skarsgard in a dark, filthy alleyway. Beaten and bloody, Seligman takes pity on Joe and helps with her recuperation in his guest bedroom. Right before heading to sleep, Joe begins to recount her life as a sex addict to Seligman over a cup of tea, who has found an entertaining correlation between Joe’s nymphomania and his hobby, fly-fishing. Never skipping the slightest, most deplorable details, Joe and Seligman begin to bond over Joe’s childhood discovery of her genitals, her prepubescent expeditions into losing her virginity, and the endless stream of sexual partners Joe encountered between young-adulthood and maturity.

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Now, a few might laugh, confused at the connection between fly fishing and sex addiction made in “Nymphomaniac: Volume I,” regardless of having seen the film or not. Apart from the similar technical aspects of the two conveyed in the film, there is much more to discover depending on your vantage point. I find that the triviality, unthreatening, common humanity of fly fishing somewhat mocks the depravity and selfishness of a nymphomaniac. Nevertheless, the similarities and comparisons are intriguing to say the least.

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You’ve heard me deem Trier’s work and the man himself as controversial, and I doubt many of you will fight me on that. That being said, why “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” is considered to be controversial and shocking is beyond me. I mean, if you’re a mid to late teen or older, you should know what sex is and how it is carried out. Younger than that and you shouldn’t even be witnessing this film. What’s shocking is the emotions, logic, morals, and inhumanity of a nymphomaniac on display here, not the sex being depicted uncensored. We see and experience sex all the time through advertisements, a lover, on TV, in film, and so on.

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There isn’t exactly a lot going on cinematically in “Nymphomaniac: Volume I,” however keep in mind that this is entirely intentional. What I’m driving at is that this film is not meant to be overly complex, it’s not here to stun you visually, or twist your brain plot-wise. It’s a story about a woman’s life, her experiences, tribulations, and side effects with the condition known as nymphomania. That being said, there is a lot to explore here, such as the continuous demolishing of the fourth wall and an abundance of visceral poignancy. Trier utilizes cut-aways to a fascinating, almost non-relevant extent and dialogue that is handsomely soliloquy-esque. Trier manages to stuff an absurd amount of painful honesty, indecisive vulnerability, and disingenuous heartlessness into the film’s two-hour runtime, like a ballon teetering on popping, it’s quite stunning.

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By the time the tale is said and done, flashbacks and all, what’s current ends up taking a backseat to the recollection. As previously mentioned, Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Joe, the teller of the story, newcomer Stacy Martin tackles young Joe, a much more demanding role. Nevertheless, Gainsbourg’s take on a worn, lifeless piece of meat is hauntingly depressing. Never has a woman appeared so worthless, a true achievement Gainsbourg can toss on her resume. As for Martin, she’s completely naked for a good chunk of the film, a seemingly disadvantageous predicament from the start as the viewer can’t help but be pried away from her performance by the nudity. Surprisingly however, Martin manages to control the screen with a cold, cosmically ghastly set of eyes that scream with a vast emotional spectrum. Being an attractive young woman, Martin does a phenomenal job making sex unappealing.

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As for Stellan Skarsgard, well, you get what you pay for. A talented, captivating acting veteran who’s indifference and calmness is an excellent grounding agent to the obscenity throughout the film, a much needed facet. Shia LaBeouf, everyone’s favourite punching bag, gives it his all this go around. Maybe now the naysayers will see what a true talent this guy is. Put hatred aside, LaBeouf can act, there’s no way around it, and I’ve been saying it for a good long while. If he can just tighten up his act and reach a state of constant maturity, he’ll undoubtedly be a star in the long run and “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” will be an early calling card we’ll all look back on.

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While undoubtedly not for everyone, “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” is a polarizing look at the terrifying world of sex addiction and no self-respect. It’ll earn its fair share of enemies, but you do have to admire the compassionate, unflinching, seductive power of Lars Von Trier’s latest expressionistic piece. It’s sure to grab comparisons to Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” which also explores sex addiction, but in a much more artistic manner. Granted, McQueen’s piece arguably trumps Trier’s in the extreme sense, but Trier’s film is, without question, much more difficult to stomach as a whole. Whether or not that’s a positive or negative is up to you…

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Nymphomaniac: Volume 1: 8 out of 10.

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About Joseph@thecinemamonster

Aspiring writer who absolutely adores film and television. thecinemamonster.com

Posted on March 11, 2014, in Drama and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.

  1. I’ve been hearing a lot about this. Its rare I watch modern films (hate to keep saying that). I think this year I’ve watched like two films from the 2000s lol.

    • Lol, wow, it’s quite a feat to stay as true and straight as you have in regard to modern films. I know there’s more than enough trash out there, but there is also a lot of good in modern cinema. This film isn’t at the height of it, but very close to the crest :).

      • Yeah there is a lot of great stuff modern wise. But as a whole I don’t connect with the good portion. And it comes down to money.

        My TV has an app for Netflix. Used to work now it freezes my TV. I get audio and video, but can’t exit out of Netflix. If I can I can’t turn off my TV. Gotta pull the plug. That can’t be good to keep doing. My laptop I need to instal something, which I do than a million other things instal and slows down the computer than a bunch of pop ups to instal something else.

        So basically it comes down to I can’t afford to pick up the modern stuff and past eras. So I stick with the eras I prefer. As for cable I barley watch films on there. Just a couple of shows and baseball/basketball.

        Put it this way last film I saw in cinemas was Dark Knight Rises!!!!!! I wanted to see Django Unchained (which I did on video) but where I was living at the time it was just too far away.

        I think last year I watched like over 300 films with maybe 50 or so being from the 2000s lol. I’m very picky on modern films. I have my film log posted but its a pain to look from my phone.

        Music also I don’t listen to modern stuff outside of bands like say U2 (when they release new stuff).

        I think like the most modern band I listen to is from like the late 90s or very early 2000s! Oddly enough I like a lot of modern TV shows as much as past eras.

      • So you are extremely selective all around, indeed ;). TV has definitely progressed since its creation, while as film could be a toss up for most. Including the high prices for modern outlets and viewing options, I can see why you’re so picky ;). Not a big modern music fan, I must say either :).

  2. Not in a rush to see it, as I’m not a fan of Von Trier at all, but I’ll get round to it one day I’m sure. Nice review!

  3. A brilliant review. I’ve heard that this film has so much sex that it desensitises towards sex.

  4. I’m sure I’ll watch this sometime. Good work!!

  5. Great review! A really interesting and valid take on the film too (though I haven’t seen it yet). Good stuff.

    Adam.

  6. I agree LaBeouf is a talented actor. And I generally like Von Trier’s movies, so I look forward to this one. Especially after reading your positive review. Great work!

  7. Nice one Joseph! Great work here, man. I’m a big fan of Von Trier’s films so needless to say, I’m looking forward to this. I think I’m going to do the double with, though, and view it as one piece.

    • Yeah, I’m kind of frustrated having to wait for part 2, still, the first was well worth the watch! Thank you, Mark!

      • Hello again, Joseph! I Just watched it (and volume 2) and I have to say that this is a stunning piece of work in its entirety! I’ll tackle a review when I can but I’m thinking I’ll probably write about it as one whole piece. Both volumes are inseparable. It’s not like, say, Kill Bill where both parts can be viewed differently. It’s basically one film which I can only imagine have been released separately as most dullards won’t sit through 4 hours of this. I loved it, man. Loved it!!!

      • Ahhhhh! You’re so lucky! I’ve yet to see the second volume, so I can’t fully grasp what you’re stating, but I totally believe and agree with you. I’m sure the film can’t be separated if one wants the immersive experience. So happy to hear you loved it and I can’t wait to read your write-up! Where exactly did you see the second chapter? Still not released where I am :(.

  8. Always nice to read a piece from you Joseph. Excellent stuff. Whatever you think of Von Trier, there ain’t anyone else out there like him.

  9. Great review, Joe. I think it’s my favorite I’ve read from you. This is one of my most anticipated films of 2014, so it’s great seeing such a favorable write-up.

  10. Fantastic review Joseph. I have not really been sold on this, but then again it is not really making news or anything here. I might check it out at some stage!

  11. Love the review – I am drawn to Von Trier’s films even though I often find them a little self indulgent and flat out disturbing at times. They’re good though usually, I’ll give him that. Sounds like the same can be said for this one. I’m curious though – where did you see it? I haven’t seen any releases of it around here in MI.

  12. Well, I doubt this film is more ‘shocking’ then the genitals’ amputation (implication?) sequence in Lars Von Trier’s ‘Antichrist’. The fact that you needed ‘careful-may-cause-offence’ warning at the top of your review says something. People should be more relaxed about such films. McQueen’s ‘Shame’ is very underrated, and I think the reason lies in its subject matter. That’s very unfortunate, and has little do to with the quality of cinematography or acting. I loved ‘Antichrist’, I loved ‘Melancholia’, but there are different ways to portray (hyper) sexuality, and although I haven’t seen this film yet, I hold my fingers crossed that Lars Von Trier did it the right way.

    • It’s definitely not as “in-your-face” offensive as “Antichrist,” but I’m sure many will get infuriated with the flick’s content, for no fathomable reason. “Shame” is an extremely underrated flick, been that way ever since I saw it at its premiere during TIFF. Couldn’t agree more, people are so sensitive to such commonality, it ruins their experiences with beautiful pieces of art. I’m also a huge fan of Trier’s and I’m sure he won’t disappoint you with his latest offering :).

  13. The more I read about this movie the more I want to see this You mentioning that it makes sex look unapealing makes me more into seeing it. Great review I will be hopefully seeing it this soon

  14. Fantastic review, I really need to see this one to see what everyone is talking about.

  15. Finally saw this last night, going to watch part 2 tonight… I need to see it. I actually liked it too! Interesting movie, it has me thinking trying to make sense of it all.

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