A self-diagnosed nymphomaniac recounts her erotic experiences to the man who saved her after a beating.
Writer, director LARS VON TRIER‘s NYMPHOMANIAC Vols. I & II is the lengthy detailing of a woman who proclaims herself to be a “self-diagnosed” sex addict. A nymphomaniac. Joe – played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, recounts her tale of inadequacies to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), a “self-proclaimed” asexual, which listens on and provides a little philosophical tidbit here and there. But the truth of it all, in all the sexual contexts, religiosity, and digressions, the pairing of the natural desires with the perverse yields often an uncomfortable realism – we are sexual creatures. This isn’t a shocking revelation, yet von Trier’s “Nympho” provokes an intellectual conversation about sex–and like Seligman, we listen to Joe’s stories with guarded intensity. Especially if you weren’t the only adult in the room while the “sexy parts” were on, so to speak.
I’ll recount the most impressive sequence of the two volumes: K’s (Jamie Bell) contribution to the film. His character introduction: mysterious, calculating and brutal. Women wait for him, seated in a dimly lit gray room, in silence. Their heads down. Obedient. Joe sits and conforms to the mood of the room. A woman rushes into the room soon after Joe and immediately occupies a seat between the two women. Another door opens opposite the one the women enters, and there stood K. Bashful and courteous, he surveys the women in the room. After dismissing one of the women for being there for her scheduled appointment, he looks over at Joe and immediately assessed that she shouldn’t be there. Joe persists, and soon we learn of K’s importance: he’s a sadist and a damn good one.
We are given everything that can be imagined in a film – dominance, revelation, confession and sex, lots of sex. The performances are spectacles of their own. The dialogue could have used some work and most of the crass naming of body parts–the overt obviousness of seeing one too many “erections” and “vaginas” were off-putting. The gravity of Nymphomaniac is its astute psychosexual aspect of it all. At one point Joe decides to enroll in a self-help group for sex addicts, where the women were made to feel “dirty,” and perverse about their desires to have sex, Joe, in a self-righteous epiphanic moment, that she “loves her cunt,” and “her filthy, dirty lust.”
Not too long ago, another controversial film provided a retrospective on sex addiction, Shame (2011). Michael Fassbender as Brandon Sullivan, a sex addict, endured his own coming to grips with his sexual nature. His sexual encounters were equally impulsive and dependent. Brandon’s character shared the same extremes of isolation his addiction caused. The only difference between the two films, aside from the fact that the characters were male and female, is that Fassbender’s “Brandon” had to deal with his addiction on his own, whereas Gainsbourg’s “Joe” was provided “an ear” in the form of Skarsgard’s “Seligman.”
Nymphomaniac is not a perfect film. It is another movie that perhaps justifies how intimacy, or the lack thereof, can destroy even the best of us. Loneliness is like a sore that refuses to heal.
A human insult.
There is also a philosophical respect to the film. It addresses the emotional imperfections that exist within us all.
Perverse or no.
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