Warning: This review contains content, images, and language that may upset and/or offend some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
One thing that Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” films are adamant in conveying to and exerting from the viewer is the ability to look at everything from a different point of view, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may be at times. Something you wouldn’t expect from a film who’s content is so universally opinionated to one side like sex addiction, pedophillia, extreme BDSM, etc… Nevertheless, Trier’s latest outing topples this feat surprisingly easily, much to the bewildered amazement of cinephiles everywhere, including myself. Although, I’m sure there will be an avalanche of backlash regarding the film’s unrestrained visuals and themes, not to mention the stance it takes on the aforementioned matters from prudes, over-protective parents, and so on. That being said, “Nymphomaniac” as a whole is quite the eye-opener and should resonate with mature, intelligent beings.
Look, I’m not condoning sex with children, and the film isn’t either. It’s simply providing varying vantage points, giving an intelligent, thought-out counterargument to topics that don’t receive much opposition. For example. We as a species, a compassionate, smart, understanding, evolving society have come to accept homosexuality as something that one is born with, a genetic tendency that the host has no control over. So, can’t the same be said for someone who is sexually attracted to prepubescent beings? Or for those who can’t help but be sexually stimulated by violence?
Clearly having relations with someone under the age of consent is wrong, and the same could be said for asphyxiation, unreciprocated desire for intercourse, simulated or not, and partaking in violent stimulation. So what are these people to do when they have no say in the matter? Obviously and irrefutably we cannot have pedophiles and murderers running lose, so do we continue down this path? Lock them up, end their existence and suffering, wait for natural selection to take its course? This is what “Nymphomaniac” is presenting. An alternative way of seeing through the dark.
“Perhaps the only difference between me and other people is that I’ve always demanded more from the sunset. More spectacular colors when the sun hit the horizon. That’s perhaps my only sin.” – Jo.
Undoubtedly my favourite line from the film. This quote really drives home the notion that we should all look at our lives differently. We see our existence as this miracle, a gift that gives even at its most darkest. But, why should we not expect more out of life and living? As Jo says, “more spectacular colours.” Shouldn’t everything be infinitely fulfilling? I’m not talking about excess, I’m talking about every moment in one’s life being boundlessly splendid. We only get a finite amount of minutes living in a body with a character and personality unlike any other, so why not comprise them of something that satisfies you fully, whatever that may be. Part ways with the notion of work, government, and materialism, do whatever makes you ooze with joy…no matter how unique or unsavoury.
With volume 1, Trier was very much focused on the minuscule, personal aspects of fulfillment and living. The idea that sharing one’s life with another gives us a disillusioned purpose…something more than simply being a brief second in our species reproductive cycle towards the goal…ultimate, infallible evolution. In volume 2, Trier broadens the scale and takes our insignificance to the universal level and really tries to hammer home the irrefutable truth: sex is the driving force of our race and loneliness is inevitable. And sadly, Trier’s view of existence and humanity, is the truth. This has been present throughout all his films and his latest rings strongest. It’s a harsh reality and I know a lot of you won’t want to hear it…believe it, but, it’s something that can’t be refuted or undone. It is what it is, we are what we are, there’s nothing to do but live a thoroughly and utterly enjoyable life while you can.
In volume 1, Stacy Martin was the driving force while Charlotte Gainsbourg took the backseat, so to speak. The roles reverse in volume 2 and Gainsbourg puts to rest any criticism naysayers would have slung in her direction had she faltered under the immense demands and pressure of Trier’s latest. Whether she’s fully clothed having an intellectual conversation with a newly found friend or taking a vicious beating half-naked just to achieve an epic, heavenly, godly orgasm, Gainsbourg holds the screen and audiences attention as if she had a gun held to the head of the world. Another outstanding performance on her end further proves that her lack of use in other films is incomprehensible.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of “Nymphomaniac” is Stellan Skarsgard’s character Seligman. Without question, an intelligent, compassionate loner who can’t help but blend into the background. Yet, as time progresses, we can’t help but start to slowly shift focus from Gainsbourg’s characters story to his life, experiences and environment. I don’t want to give too much away, but do pay close attention to Skarsgard’s brilliance here. His character arguably becomes our antihero just as much as Gainsbourg’s character does. I don’t think I’ve seen a protagonist so intriguing. Our admiration, respect, and love for this character changes so quickly, if you blink, you might miss it.
The film also stars Jamie Bell, who having recently won even more praise from me for his role in “Snowpiercer” continues to shine blindingly with another unforgettable turn in “Nymphomaniac.” Willem Dafoe and Mia Goth round out the supporting cast, with those who were present in volume such as Shia LaBeouf and Stacy Martin making brief appearances as well.
If I could leave you with one last tidbit of advice, watch the film as a whole, not in two separate volumes. I know it’s tough to sit through a four-hour film, but I promise it’s worth the effort. Trier’s visuals are as unflinching, striking and reprehensible as ever. The film is filled with philosophical theories and moral quandaries, not to mention the stellar performances from the entire ensemble. “Nymphomaniac” is another triumph for Trier and company, one that is sure to leave you pondering its construction and meaning well after the final credits role.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II: 9 out of 10.