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The Nymphomaniac

LNymphomaniac poster.jpgars von Trier’s new film The Nymphomaniac was receiving a ton of hype and press long before the film was released.  “The explicit sexual nature” of the film was over-analyzed before any piece of the film was available.  It was rumored Shia LaBeouf broke up with a girlfriend because he would need to engage in actual sexual intercourse.  Something he was willing to do for the artistic nature of the film.

While the film is highly sexual in nature, and moderately pornographic, I wasn’t really shocked by any of the images or scenes in The Nymphomaniac.  Maybe I’ve just become desensitized to these sorts of things, but watching the film I actually found The Nymphomaniac to perhaps be Lars von Trier’s most accessible film.  It has a very traditional plot line, and an epic scope in telling the story of one girl’s life, Joe, played by mainstay Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The film opens with Joe being found in an alley by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard).  She is beaten badly, but does not ask for help from Seligman, only food.  Seligman offers her food, but only if she comes inside his apartment so he can help her further.  They begin to talk, and Joe begins to tell him about her life which revolves around her sexual awakening as a child and experiences after the fact.

Her first sexual experience was with Jerome (Shia LaBeouf).  He was the cool teenager that seemed like he was the kind of guy that was supposed to take your virginity, so she just asks him to do so.  She is of that age and it seems like something she is supposed to do.  There is something about Joe though that men fall for.  Perhaps it is not caring for anything.  The eternal game that you can’t win, but men chase after her.

Joe is a hard character to feel sympathy for, especially during part I of the film.  She shows no remorse for her actions in her sexual behavior.  To her she is only experimenting and learning about herself as a young woman.  These actions harm those who she has sex with.  Part 1 of The Nymphomaniac examines the fine line between love, lust, and sex without any passion.  Sex as a basic human instinct.  Joe feels nothing at first through sex.  It’s just something she does, but she soon uses sex as a coping mechanism to deal with her father’s sickness (Christian Slater), and to deal with life around her.

As Joe and Seligman continue to talk we learn more and more about how Joe came to be in that alley, and we learn about Seligman’s life as well.  Seligman has an intense love of music, and the movement of music and writing.  Music and sex/love go through many of the same movements and patterns, and they discuss that symbiotic relationship.  Joe begins to understand Seligman, and their relationship forms the core understanding of the film.

There’s lots of deep symbolism and imagery in The Nymphomaniac, but Lars von Trier has always had a heavy hand and flair for these sorts of things.  The film completes his depression trilogy, along with The Antichrist (far more sexually violent) and Melancholia (probably my favorite film of his).

The film plays like some really messed up story-telling version of Life of Pi and Forest Gump, meets Kieslowski’s Red.  The film explores sexuality as release, as joy, as pain, as addiction, as damnation, and as salvation.  It explores sex as art.  Lars von Trier never disappoints as shown once again here, but he’s also done better.

Grade: B+