Lars Von Trier’s Depression trilogy started off with Antichrist, then Melancholia and now it comes full circle with this 4 hour, 2 part sex epic Nymphomaniac. Greeted with a whiff of silence and expatiated sounds and then blasting it off with Rammstein’s Fuhre Mich Lar’s Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is exactly how it goes. Unlike Antichrist, Nymphomaniac is an ode to sex addiction, a poetry in motion that explores the verges of sensuality, vulgarity and intense libido of a woman from her early days to her prime. An anthology of sexually graphic stories that also does the job of mesmerizing you in its characters and its narrative.
The story starts with a beaten and injured Joe, found by Seligman, who takes her to his apartment and Joe starts narrating her life and her sexcapades to him through till end. While its obviously provocative and titillating, sex is not the core of the story, you are left to think throughout the duration of the movie. Its natural if you get titillated but Seligman as evidently doesn’t and helps you find the a meaning as well as a justification for what happens. While Joe goes onto narrate her explicitly detailed adventures, Seligman, from time to time, gives you tidbits of info. From nymph and fishing to polyphony and Bach. Its relevance you ask? That’s how the narration progresses and its rather fascinating how it unravels through out the movies 4+ hours. Obviously these characters are not set in a contemporary reality and might not always work if you question its plausibility. These are characters straight from a writer’s head and as Lars plays the roles of both writer and director, nobody could have done it better.
Volume 1 follows a young Joe through her peaks of insatiable craving for sex and ends with the Cantus Firmus depicting her 3 lovers (which makes the polyphony). Volume 2 pursues a much older Joe and goes a bit deep into her addiction and how she tries to reclaim back her life. It paints her with a wide brush. Lars even pays some homages along the way. If you’ve seen Antichrist you’ll spot the conspicuous scene within seconds. Its unmistakable explicitness aside, Nymphomaniac packs a lot of memorable sequences as well, a scene in particular which comes to mind Joe’s father’s hospital scene as pictured in the chapter Delirium and another one would be Joe’s speech during a sex addict support group. The words she utters would be cringe worthy but nonetheless brilliant. Humor is also sprinkled generously, from Seligman and Joe’s conversation to a chapter called Mrs H.
Playing Joe and Seligman are Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgård and they kinda, silently through their performances, try to outmatch each other. You have to give in to Skarsgard for keeping a straight face up until the climax (no puns intended). And Gainsbourg’s is just as amazing, her voice, spellbinding, making you listen to every word she says. Apart from these two the stand out cast member would be undoubtedly Stacy Martin, that sexy petite girl who almost flawlessly pulled a ‘young Joe’. I wouldnt be surprised if she ends up in roles, more demanding. Shia LaBeouf plays Jerome, Joe’s love interest and he does a decent job. A slew of AAA actors garnish the 4 hour long movie, from Uma Thurman, Christian Slater to Willem Dafoe and Jamie Bell. As its known Lars’ movies are known to be a visual extravaganza and here its not different. there is a specific goldish brown hue that’s predominant but there are also deviations when you go from chapter to chapter. Also known is his taste in music and brilliant sound design.
Touching everything from bondage to pedophilia, Nymphomaniac is undoubtedly sexually explicit and a perverts paradise and not at all an easy watch showing full frontal nudity and actual penetration which they claim to be done with body doubles. It literally goes to commercial cinema’s extremes but at the same time encompassing themes like love, abuse and addiction. As opposed to Blue is The Warmest Color I would never call this sensual and it can get shocking at times. What I loved is Trier’s exploration into taboo territory. Few directors would have the balls to sign in AAA stars to act in a semi-pornographic movie. If you think writing this off as porn would be a good idea, then you are direly wrong. It has extensive sexual content but its far from actual pornography and I believe that if those content is put to use for a good narrative then it makes for a profound sexual drama and is thus justified. And if you want anything hardcore you are better off with porn.
This is Lars Von Trier and he never shies away from what he wants to show. Initially even I felt it a bit shocking because I was not used to see this much sexual content in mainstream cinema but by the end of it all it wasnt the shocking imagery that got stuck in my mind but instead, the four hour journey that felt anything but shocking. Being the finale of his Depression trilogy, I’d say Nymphomaniac delivered.