Saturday, 6 December 2014

Nymphomaniac Part 1 and 2 review


One thing I really find quite perturbing is when people try to portray sex as being, well, sexy, or romantic even, in books or films. Tom McCarthy's otherwise excellent C was ruined by its cringeworthy sex scenes. There's even awards for bad sex in novels. Sex is messy and not exactly pretty. So luckily, Lars von Trier's sex scene's in his Nymphomaniac two-parter are pretty realistic, the fact being that this might be one of the unsexiest movies about sex you'll ever see.

To portray the sex as sexy would do a massive disservice to this film though. The third part of von Trier's Depression Trilogy, Nymphomaniac tells the story of a woman, in her own words, of her rambunctious sex life. Indeed, her whole life evolves around sex, from consuming as many as ten men a night, every night, to even getting someone to beat her to orgasm. She masturbates so much, she gets sore's on her genitalia. Her appitite was so much, that it destroyed her one long term relationship, and lost her contact to her son.


However, Joe, played by Stacy Martin when she is young and Charlotte Gainsbourg when she is older, is the most likable character in this film. While her sexual appetite may of been too much for some, she is ok with it. In a sex addict meeting, the other people berate her for calling herself a "nymphomaniac", but to her it is a badge of honour, and to deny it would be to deny herself life itself.

The film portrays many slightly surreal divertions to her story. After being left for dead and found by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), she recounts her past to explain her present situation. Explaining a story of how she forcably gave a man fellatio on a train for a prize of a bag of sweets, Seligman compares this to Izaak Walton's book The Complete Angler. Looking for sex is like fly fishing! The story of how she lost her virginity also draws parallels to the Fibonacci sequence, according to Seligman. Where it often feels like von Trier is laughing at you in his films, Nymphomaniac allows you to laugh with it. A hypersexual woman telling her tale to an asexual man seems like the ulitmate buddy comedy.


Some of the acting in this film is a little wooden though. Martin's Joe is completley emotionless, although the character of Joe seem's to be detached from nearly everything that doesn't end in her orgasm. Shia LaBeouf as Young Jerome has one of the most curious British accents I've ever heard in my life. Aside from that, the  character of Jerome is one of the nastiest in the film, but is only portrayed as such by his older self, (Michaël Pas). Uma Thurman is brilliant as the wronged wife Mrs H, who passively aggressively humiliates her bewitched husband and Joe, as well as mentally scarring their three sons for the rest of their lives. Jamie Bell, as K, is the another character of note, playing a sadomasochist who is at once vicious and understanding.

Through out all the pain that Joe suffers, and deviations in the story telling, it is possible to see Joe as almost inspiring. She wants to just be happy with herself in her life. Seligman's summerising of her life to be difficult because she was a woman, and it would of been acceptable if she was a man, seems a bit insulting. The ending of the film, which I won't spoil for you, was a shock and lingered long in my head afterwards. Fair to say, if it didn't have that ending, this really would of been a smug retelling of a overly sexualised life.


It goes without saying that this film has some bits that people will find disturbing (and this was the 4 1/2 hour version, not the uncut one). Awful things happen to Joe, situations that nobody would want to be in, but because she's a sexaholic its perceived that she asked for those bad things. And the film is funny too, in a dark, black humour kind of way. The decision to make a long, two-part movie allows you to really understand Joe, and as the end came, I found myself almost missing her.

While von Trier's films may be a little arty for some, I found his numourous deviations into science, music and religion allowed you too see Joe's sexual experiences as more than just a perversion. I enjoyed this film, and will give it a 7/10. Just don't expect to get turned on by it.

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