Nymphomaniac: Volume I (Not Rated, 118 minutes)
Probably the most polarizing film to be released in 2014, Nymphomaniac is the latest tale from the twisted mind of Lars Von Trier. Von Trier has written and directed countless films, but became commercially newsworthy with his explicitly unrated Antichrist. With Nymphomaniac, which is presented in two volumes, he has repeated this unrated process and presented the unflattering potrait of a ‘sex-addict.’ Now, I was never a fan of Von Trier’s work; Antichrist is one of the toughest films to sit through and it felt shocking for the sake of being shocking. Yes, Nymphomaniac: Volume I is on my ‘2014 ten most anticipated films list,’ but I wanted to see this because of the buzz surrounding the film, not because of Lars Von Trier’s previous work. Actors have talked about the graphic nature of the film; for instance, both volumes of Nymphomaniac feature several ‘un-simulated’ sex scenes.
However, unlike other films who have had used this ‘un-simulated’ technique, it does not feel out of place in Lars Von Trier’s contained story. In fact, the graphic sex scenes work with telling the unapologetic story of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the nymphomaniac. With that said, this is not just a movie about sex, it is a character study of a seemingly depressed character who questions the morality of her impulses. This is not easy to watch because even the simplest of scenes will have the audience cringing; however, the shocking scenes never minimize the actual story because in the end this is a character piece. And what makes Joe feel like a real character is the deep philosophical way the narrator and her listener (Stellan Skarsgård) talk about each situation.
Again, it is not just about sex; the movie has heart-breaking scenes that display the depths of Joe’s disease. Between a scorned ex-wife (Uma Thurman) confronting the Joe and her breakdown over her father’s death, the protagonist is never sensationalized. The film never makes the actual sex look flattering; like Shame, Nymphomaniac makes the audience understand that this is an unappealing trip down the ‘rabbit hole’ of excess. But at the same time, because of the way it is told and how the narrator and listener interact, this remains a very contained story; which, in my opinion is why it works.
Now the banter between Joe and Stellan Skarsgård’s Seligman is vital to narrative. In a way, his accepting of her lifestyle better helps the audience’s ability to relate to Joe; and also, makes the audience believe that she is not a ‘bad person.’ Perhaps, she has done ‘immoral things,’ but these choices are because of a horrific emotional state that prevents her from normally interacting with humans. Yes, there are feelings of instability while watching Joe, but these are subtle nuances, which is to the credit of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin (who plays Younger Joe).
With this said, there are a few minor grievances with the first volume. First and foremost, the heavy metal song that has been incorporated with all of the trailers makes an unwelcome appearance at the beginning and ending credits. For such a character driven piece, this ‘in your face’ metal song does not fit well with the movie. On top of this, as Joe and Seligman are taking about literature or nature, the film blatantly shows imagery to coincide with said conversation; which can take the audience out of the movie. And To be honest, with my overall enjoyment of their conversations I would have rather just watched the two characters talking. Last and the most consistent problem of the film are the American actors portraying European accents: Shia LaBeouf and Christian Slater are the biggest offenders. I just do not understand why they hired American actors for these roles because the accents just felt phony. For instance, a scene with Christian Slater is easily the worst scene of the movie because of his horrible accent. However, limited screen time prevent this from hindering the overall product.
Again, Nymphomaniac is not for everyone; the graphic scenes will certainly ‘turn away’ the squeamish; however it is important to understand the possible beauty of these characters. Some will see this as filth and I cannot blame them; but to the people who can look past the sex scenes, they will get a deep character study that can be touching and thought provoking. On the other hand, for the people watching this just to see the graphic sex scenes, you may be bored or disgusted; however, if one sees Nymphomaniac: Volume I with an open mind, then he or she will witness 2014s richest movie thus far.
The conclusion, Nymphomaniac Volume II, will be released on March 21st: expect my review shortly thereafter.