A slightly stronger work than the first volume—one that benefits greatly from Charlotte Gainsbourg’s bravura performance.
Dir. Lars von Trier
2013 | Denmark/Germany | Drama | 178 mins | 2.35:1 | English
Not rated (far exceeds R21 guidelines)
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe
Plot: The continuation of Joe’s sexually-dictated life delves into the darker aspects of her adulthood, obsessions and what led to her being in Seligman’s care.
Awards: Official Selection (Venice)
International Sales: TrustNordisk
Subject Matter: Mature/Controversial
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
(Reviewed on Blu-ray – first published 29 Oct 2018)
This review is of the extended uncut version.
When Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2 is done and dusted, one could see Lars von Trier’s grand vision emerging as a consistent force together with Vol. 1. It is almost akin to seeing the Danish director doing a Master thesis on nymphomania, but instead of a paper, he produced a film instead.
By analogising his work as a thesis, I hope to show that it is as intellectually-stimulating as it is plodding, and as self-indulgent as it is ambitious. Running a good half-hour longer than Vol. 1, though it is in my opinion a better film than the first, Vol. 2 continues Joe’s recount of her past right up to the present moment.
This also means that Charlotte Gainsbourg gets more screen time here, giving a bravura performance that is as astonishing as her work in von Trier’s Antichrist (2009), which together with Melancholia (2011) and Nymphomaniac, form his Trilogy of Depression.
“I’m not like you. I am a nymphomaniac and I love myself for being one, but above all, I love my cunt and my filthy, dirty lust.”
One could almost see this trio of films as the antithesis (or perhaps in some ways, complementary) to Pasolini’s trippier and more playful Trilogy of Life—The Decameron (1971), The Canterbury Tales (1972) and Arabian Nights (1974)—which were referenced in Vol. 1, and where sexuality and its relation to the human condition are explored in both literary and cinematic fashions.
Similar to Vol. 1, Vol. 2 is structured with chapters, though there are only three here, namely: “The Eastern and Western Church (The Silent Duck)”, “The Mirror” and “The Gun”. While the first film was more about lust and love, the second one goes into darker territory, with themes of sadomasochism, abortion and crime. “The Mirror”, particularly, is not for the faint of heart, with Joe attempting a self-abortion with home tools.
The squirmy intensity of this disturbing sequence reminds me of a similar example in the astonishing sign-language drama from Ukraine, The Tribe (2014). While The Tribe has emotional stakes, von Trier’s clinical, methodical approach to Nymphomaniac is almost akin to reading a visual textbook on the subject.
“We elevate those who say right but mean wrong, and mock those who say wrong but mean right.”
The two volumes are shot so matter-of-factly that it is hard to be aroused by its salacious content. But I think the point is to meditate on the nature of sex, to confront the obstacles to pleasure, and ultimately to be happy and proud of one’s condition.
Sexual addiction is a serious health problem, but under von Trier’s hands, it is dissected with a touch of flair and poeticism. The two films don’t always work well or entertain as they should, yet one could see the culmination of von Trier’s perennial obsessions in this epic two-parter.