What can one expect with a title like Nymphomaniac, a five and half hour movie split into two volumes about sex addiction?
This eagerly anticipated movie is the third film in the Lars Von Trier Depression Trilogy. Following on from The Antichrist and Melancholia, Nymphomaniac is split into two volumes…and it goes much further than the publicity film posters which displayed images of the cast making their orgasm faces.
Charlotte Gainsbourg plays self-diagnosed sex addict Joe who is found bedraggled in an alleyway by middle aged virgin Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) who befriends and then nurses her back to health. The film proceeds like a two act stage play as Joe begins her story, detailing her erotic desires from a young age and an insatiable sexual appetite which follows her into adulthood.
Nymphomaniac cleverly invites you into a world of sex addiction and the trials that follow. Joe recounts her sexual encounters, nonchalantly launching us into stories involving numerous affairs, non-platonic relationships and her general feeling towards the male species.
One notable moment is the riveting penis slideshow where Joe talks about penises she’s endured, all shapes and sizes as we’re subjected to a fascinating cock medley, if it doesn’t repulse you, it will certainly entertain!
Although the film retains that foreign art-house feel Lars Von Trier is known for a glimmer of Hollywood shines through as Uma Thurman makes her stamp in Von Trier’s movie. Her powerhouse of a performance stands out as she plays Mrs H, an overwrought woman who brings her children to Joe’s apartment to see the ‘Whoring Bed,’ at the same time exposing her cheating husband.
Later in the story Joe’s partner, Jerome (Shia Lebeouf), suggests that she sees other men to fulfill her sexual needs. Much like Breaking the Waves, a favourite movie of mine, Lars Von Trier puts the question out there – is love really enough?
Nymphomaniac throws up many questions, from the awareness of birth, mortality and whether nymphomania is sexual liberation or a psychological, biological condition?
Enter K, another character known only by an initial.
One highlight of Nymphomaniac is Jamie Bell’s portrayal of K, a notorious sadist Joe seeks help from to suppress her addiction. The Billy Elliot star thrives in this complex and solitary character with a deadly charm that would make any girl want to be under his control. Furthermore Jamie Bell and Charlotte Gainsbourg pull off the most awkward and yet convincing BDSM duo in recent film history.
It’s hard to find the meaning of this film and whether Joe is a person with an addiction or a liberated feminist. There are mixed messages.
Lars Von Trier manages to leave us with that gut feeling. A disappointment in human nature. And regardless of the inconsistencies in the style and aspects of the narrative, we are given an honest insight into the human mind and perhaps even society through the eyes of a woman.
Nymphomaniac leaves you feeling raw and fragile.
I’ll wait another six months before I’m ready to see it again. And I’ll wait a lifetime for Melancholia.