Sex is often a surreptitious topic, but in Lars von Trier’s new film, Nymphomaniac – split into two volumes – sex is at the forefront of discussion. Nymphomaniac is centered on the story of a middle-aged nymphomaniac, a woman affected by excessive sexual desire. After she is found beaten in an alley, she discloses everything about herself and her sexual ventures to a man who considers himself asexual.
The film is unspeakably profane; few audience members will be able to stomach the intensity of von Trier’s story. The movie is filled with exposed genitalia, graphic sex sequences and violence and foul language. It’s exactly what your parents told you to stay away from.
Nymphomaniac stars Christian Slater, Stellan Skarsgård, Uma Thurman, Stacy Martin, Willem Dafoe, Shia LaBeouf and Charlotte Gainsbourg as the protagonist, Joe. None of the actors actually participated in the sexual acts, rather, body doubles were used along with digitally manipulated genitals.
As for the cinematographic value of the film, von Trier has some occasional beautiful compositions and intriguing edits. He may break from conventional film standards at times; however, being the co-founder of the Dogme 95 avant-garde filmmaking movement, he is certainly no amateur.
Just as a play features an intermission, in a sense, so does Nymphomaniac. The split is solely for the sake of avoiding a four-hour runtime. The first volume covers Joe’s early life, while the second follows her later years. The first volume is also slightly more sexual, but much less graphic than the second, which is more violent and disturbing. It explores the darker moments of Joe’s adulthood, including her experimentation with kinky perversions and sadomasochism.
The film serves as a very unique biopic into a life that is otherwise hidden from society. Critics argue about the value of the film in regards to feminist movements. The film depicts the struggles of women to a point where it supports sex-negative feminism, inciting many to call the film misogynistic.
The film seems to support a sex-negative feminist viewpoint. Sex is largely found to be brutal and not gratifying toward the end of the film. Women are initially overlooked as objects, but they are not afraid to stand up against their oppressors.
On a less controversial note, von Trier manages to edit in a few moments of dry humor and tongue-in-cheek sequences that may lighten the mood for some viewers. Regardless, he often turns to his signature grim and gloomy style, as seen in his 2009 film Antichrist.
Nymphomaniac is not rated, but could very easily receive an NC-17 rating because of its explicitness.
When considering watching this film, I caution you. Von Trier is bold and merciless in his direction. While his manner of execution is extreme, he does manage to integrate intriguing and intellectual ideas into his work