Image: Zentropa Entertainments
Being someone who hasn’t seen a Lars Von Trier film, my expectations going in to Nymphomaniac (Volumes 1 AND 2) were based purely on what I had heard about him and the publicity surrounding this film. The plot is pretty much exactly what the name suggests, but not in the way that I had imagined. I originally thought Nymphomaniac was essentially going to be porn with, perhaps, a bit of a story. However, the balance between the sex and the plot levelled out nicely against my expectations; this film is not just all shock factor for the sake of being shocking.
The story of self diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is cleverly told as a story to an older man, who finds her beaten in an alleyway at the start of the film. Upon asking her the question of how she came to be there he opens up a Pandora’s box of stories depicting her life, sexual experiences and the questioning of whether she is truly a terrible person. These stories are triggered by her talks with Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) as he prompts her with key words as she sits in his home with a cup of tea.
Set out in two Volumes, the first in five chapters and the second in three, the story is divided into various thoughts and ideas. Volume One was interesting, tragic and comical at the same time, following various stages of Joe’s life. The appearance of Uma Thurman as Mrs H saw one of the most dark yet funny moments in the film as she drags children into a house to show them a “Whoring bed”. As Volume One comes to a sudden end, there’s no question over watching volume two Volume Two; you have started so you must finish. For me it was a matter of wondering how on earth this film will end.
Volume Two saw an even darker dive into Joe’s life that felt like it wouldn’t pick up as it spiralled down to the last moments. Jamie Bell gives a wonderful yet chilling performance as K in the S&M scenes, a character which you won’t forget easily. The second Volume didn’t hold up as well compared to the first and it started to drag its feet, which begs the question of whether this film was a little too long. One thing everyone seems to be talking about in relation to Nymphomaniac is Shia Labeouf, whose performance shocked audiences in a bad way; being a recurring character I expected better from whoever was to play Jerome. Was Shia Labeouf a good casting choice? In short no, not at all. His accent was so bad it made you wish you could mute the sound just to avoid it. At points it became a laughing stock in the cinema. As a recurring character you just can’t avoid him, but mercifully, thanks to the running time of both parts, he doesn’t actually take up too much screen time.
Ultimately Nymphomaniac is both very good and very bad at the same time, both in style and content; it was truly thought provoking in parts, in others it was extremely funny. It had moments that stunned the audience into silence. Not an easy film to watch at all, but it pushes a lot of boundaries in a risky subject very well, making it a film definitely worth watching.