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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Nymphomaniac: Volume 1: 8 out of 10.
Deftly paced, emotionally gripping, and psychologically advancing. “The East” is a socio-political thriller that never mistakes revenge for a lack of heart. Piling on the tension to an almost unbearable extent and performed with graceful precision and a relentless thirst for justice. Co-writers Brit Marling and Zat Batmanglij have once again created a taut character-study oozing with conscientious-awareness and founded upon eco-friendly tendencies. While parts of “The East” may feel somewhat like a retread of the duo’s previous effort “The Sound of my Voice,” any correlation between the two is soon disparaged. Yes, it may deal with similar themes such as infiltration, self-realization, and influence. Nonetheless, “The East” is Marling and Batmanglij’s most complete offering to date and sees their potential continue its rise to an even brighter future.
Sarah moss (Marling), a former FBI agent, is a high-level operative for the private intelligence firm Hiller-Brood. She is commissioned to infiltrate a terrorist organization called The East and report back with the groups next targets. Upon gaining the trust of the charismatic leader Benji (Skarsgard) and next in command Izzy (Page), Sarah begins to unveil intel to her boss. As time passes, Sarah becomes infatuated with the group’s members and ideals.
The first few moments of “The East” strike a strong note of consciousness that resonates throughout the entire film and never disperses or weakens. It is followed with wave upon wave of allegory that inflicts an ocean of inward assessment regarding environmental duty and industrial intoxication. It may leave a bitter taste with its blatancy, unorthodox approach, and alarming nature. Nevertheless, it is a controversial wake-up call that is extremely difficult to look away from. Ultimately, “The East” isn’t easily dismissed upon completion. It acts much like a splinter, stinging and constantly drawing your attention and ire until it is dealt with. I’m not implying that it will force you to drop sanity and necessity to go and save the world. Yet, it will enlighten your point of view and illuminate these troubling matters at hand so one day we can make better, more informed decisions about the planet, and more importantly, our future.
Amongst these immense matters, it would be easy to lose sight of the human element. After all, the safety of our environment directly affects our longevity and its security. It might seem a bit selfish, but the concern about our habitat is based in majority on our dominance of this planet. Amazingly, Marling and Batmanglij have managed to bottle these enormously important topics and infused them with our heart and soul. What good would the preservation of Earth be if we weren’t around to enjoy it? While we are treated to an abundance of vantage points, each one is unique and connects with different people on vastly different levels. Which, evidently makes “The East” an outstanding experience for all involved, cast, crew, and audience.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about “The East” is its dissection of every facet that compiles our existence. It doesn’t solely focus on saving and bettering our planet. It tackles industry, poverty, indifference, humanity, etc… Everything is entangled and attached in this metaphorical web and each aspect is torn down until its roots are bare. There are a lot of wrongs that need to be righted in our current state and awareness is a huge step that seemingly the majority of us are afraid or unwilling to take. I’m not trying to preach as I am just as clueless and motionless as the next when it comes to eco-preservation. It is simply gratifying to know that some are taking the initiative to better our world. It might sound cliche or corny, nonetheless, it is something that needs to be dealt with in order to fortify our existence and evolution.
I think that is enough of a disembowelment towards our humanity, existence, and the film itself in general. I’ll move on to the technical aspects of the film and its performances. “The East” stars the aforementioned Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, and Ellen Page. The biggest surprise, well, at least for me anyway, was Alexander Skarsgard’s performance, he easily dominated the entire film. Page and Marling were also incredibly impressive, but not on the same scale. Possibly because I expected them to be terrific and I had no idea what to expect from Skarsgard. Considering the significance of the film, overshadowing the star-power was a concern entering the theatre. However, this turned out to be a wasted worry as the cast, in its entirety, matched the story’s intensity, subtlety, and brilliance. As for Zat Batmanglij, he continues to perfect his craft as “The East” holds, without question his best work from behind the camera.
Tremendously acted, superbly filmed, and just impeccably solid all the way through. “The East” is an immaculate depiction of our society, its flaws, and how we can ultimately correct them.
The East: 8.5 out of 10.