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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sean Kelly

My Thoughts on Nymphomaniac

nymphomaniacFrom director Lars von Trier (Melancholia) comes this epic two volume story about a woman with a lifelong sex addition.  Left beaten and bloodied in an alley, the titular nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is taken in by the kind stranger Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård).  While she recovers in his home, Joe insists to Seligman that she is a terrible person and proceeds to tell him her life story.  The story includes the close relationship between Joe and her father (Christian Slater), her carefree sexual adventures as a young adult (played by Stacy Martin), her attempts at a stable relationship with a man named Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf), and eventually her darker pursuits later in life.

A disclaimer at the start of both volumes of Nymphomaniac state that this two volume presentation, with a combined running time of just over four hours, is abridged from Lars von Trier’s original director’s cut, which reportedly clocked in at 5 1/2 hours.  Out of necessity, more than anything else, the film was released in two volumes, both of which must be watched to get the full story.  Watching both volumes back-to-back, I have to say that Volume One benefits a bit more from the split than Volume Two does, with the latter literally continuing where the first left off, making it not that suited for stand alone viewing.

Nymphomaniac: Volume One focuses entirely on the lead character of Joe’s younger years, where she is played by relative newcomer Stacy Martin.  This volume can be described as the more “enjoyable” of the two, since it shows Young Joe’s carefree sexual lifestyle in a light-hearted and humorous light.  You can’t help but chuckle when Seligman compares Joe’s quest of finding sexual conquests on a train to the art of fly fishing.  The standout scene of Volume One involves Uma Thurman appearing as Mrs. H, the wife of one of Joe’s lovers.  The scene of Mrs. H’s passive aggressive encounter with Joe was undoubtedly the high point of the entire four hours and it was definitely a joy to watch.  Then there’s Shia LaBeouf as Joe’s main lover Jerôme.  This is part of LaBeouf’s attempt to take more serious roles, after spending much of the last decade in action blockbusters.  He was OK enough in the role, though his attempts at an English accent are quite laughable.

Nymphomaniac: Volume Two focuses primarily on the older Joe, who is now unable to get sexual pleasure by normal means and now goes after more dangerous pursuits.  While retaining some of the tongue-in-cheek humour of Volume One, Volume Two is undoubtedly the darker of the two volumes, with much time spent on Joe’s S&M sessions with a man named K (Jamie Bell), as well as her later criminal career, working as a debt collector for a man named L (Willem Dafoe).  These darker moments of Joe’s life are marked by Charlotte Gainsbourg taking over for Stacy Martin in the role.  I have to admit that the change is a bit jarring at first, especially since Shia LaBeouf initially remains in the role of Jerôme. Also, while this volume adds to the story as a whole, I don’t think it really works as a stand alone film.  In fact, I am quite glad that I saw both volumes back-to-back, since that is probably the best way to watch Nymphomaniac.

Since it’s the subject matter of the film, I guess I should talk a bit about Nymphomaniac's sexual content.  While the film does feature quite a lot of graphic sexual content (with the more explicit shots being done by either prosthetics or body doubles), the film is not as wall-to-wall sex as you would expect for a story about nymphomania.  In fact, I thought the most interest parts of the film involved the characters fully clothed.  Then of course, there are the somewhat hard to watch S&M sequences, where Joe is tied to a couch a violently beaten or whipped (the latter is particularly disturbing).

All together, Nymphomaniac was an interesting look at a lifelong sex addict and the challenges and stigmas that this lifestyle has brought to her life.

Volume One: 8 | LIKED IT
Volume Two: 7 | FAIR 
Overall: 8 | LIKED IT

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).