Sex isn’t the root to all evil. It just matters who you’re having it with.
When we last left-off with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her life’s story, she was younger, happily-in-love with Jerome (Shia Labeouf), but had a problem: She couldn’t be fully sexually-satisfied. Most of that problem had to do with the fact that she was pregnant, but that’s also because she longed for something more. After all, she is a self-described Nymphomaniac, and Nymphomaniac’s need all the pleasure and sex they can get. Even if that does mean getting late-night spanks from a random stranger (Jamie Bell); going to see a sex-therapist (Katie Ashfield) to “get help”; and start working as a debt-collector for a brutal man known as L (Willem Dafoe). Eventually though, all of this screwing around, comes back to bite her in the rear-end, which also leads us to the present-day in which she is telling Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) everything that he needs to know about her. He’s still using every chance he can to bring up random facts about fishing, religion, family and art, but he may even have a little something to share with Joe as well. Maybe something that will make her seem in a different light?
Volume I of Lars von Trier’s two-parter surprised the hell out of me. Not because it wasn’t as disgusting or vile as I originally thought of it as being upon first hearing the term, “Four-hour sex-epic from the guy who made Antichrist“, but because it did a lot of stuff that we don’t see von Trier often do in his movies. For one, it was pretty funny. Many of times, I caught myself laughing at the pure-randomness of this material, like Christian Slater using a British-accent, or Joe ejaculating while watching her father lie-naked and die right in front of her eyes; however, I feel like that’s what von Trier wanted me to do. He was intentionally messing around with me, the viewer, and for that, I appreciated him, as well as the movie, a whole lot more.
Also, von Trier never seemed to be judging Joe for any of the dirty, immoral things she was doing with her body. She was having all sorts of sex with anybody she could find, yet, she was using it to her advantage. Rather than painting her as a total and complete slut, who doesn’t deserve the time of day, let alone, our warm, cozy bed, we get to see a woman, being a woman, who also happens to have plenty of needs. We never hate her, nor do we like her – we just see her for what she is. Von Trier was smart in using that method of story-telling and character-development to his advantage, which is why that first part had me expecting all sorts of greatness for this.
Sadly, no such thing happens.
The reason why I mentioned the whole hilarious, and non-judgmental-aspect of the first film, is because all of those elements that made the first one such a fine-watch, are pretty much gone here. Acts of hilarious randomness are replaced with dark, twisted confusion; whereas the idea of not judging our character, is replaced with a view on this character that is the least bit flattering. Now, of course it’s von Trier’s movie and he can wish to do whatever the hell it is he wants, with whomever he wants, but I feel like the transition from something so fun, light and exciting like the first-part, to something so dark, angry, mean and nasty like this part, would have been a lot more cohesive, had this film been shown in its original, straight, four-hour run-time. Had that been the format chosen, there wouldn’t have been such a tonal-difference between either parts, and how von Trier decides to switch gears up.
That doesn’t make this movie bad at all, it’s just disappointing is all. Where in Volume I, I thought I saw a quick, humorous-side to von Trier that I had never, ever known was there before; here, we get something that’s going back to the Lars von Trier we all know, and sometimes loathe: Evil, cruel and mean. He still pays close-attention to his characters, the situations they are thrown into, and how they react to them, but it’s not nearly as entertaining or interesting as the first movie. It just seems like von Trier ran-out of some ideas here and there, so instead of keeping with the frothy-pace of the first movie, he just decided to throw more and more crazy acts at us, in a way to both shock us and have us trying to make sense of what we’re seeing.
Problem is, that barely ever happens. It’s just Lars von Trier, being Lars von Trier. And I guess I just wanted more growth. May be a problem only I had, but it’s still a problem that continued to bug me, again and again.
All that said, I can’t take away from what’s really working here, which is the ensemble von Trier packs a bit more from the first. Stacy Martin may have stolen the show in the first-installment, but this time, we finally get to see a lot more of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s portrayal of Joe, and needless to say, it’s another compelling performance from an actress that always seems to put in great work. Especially when she’s working with von Trier. Gainsbourg has a lot of crazy stuff to do here, such as getting whipped, brutally beaten, ripping her clothes off and having to kiss other woman. And while that may not sound like much of a range at all when all it is you’re doing is going through motions, Gainsbourg is still believable during every part. The only thing really holding her character back is that we begin to care less and less for her character, her journey and where it is she’s going with her life, because of the way von Trier’s light portrays here as. Shame too, because Gainsbourg is a solid actress who is clearly not afraid of stepping out of her comfort-zone; even if that does entail showing her bum.
Like Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård returns as the heartfelt, sensitive man who is always eager to see and hear where Joe’s story goes next, sometimes a little TOO eager. We get more shading to his character than ever before here, but, like with the character of Joe in this movie, von Trier’s starts to paint a portrait of this man isn’t as sympathetic as it was in the first place. That’s about as much as I’ll say about that, but it surprised me. Then, I got to thinking about it, and then it didn’t. Because, hell, this is a Lars von Trier movie, what do you expect to happen!??! Roses, happiness, peace and love to be spotted in every frame?!?!
Consensus: The drastic change in tone and character-development for Nymphomaniac: Volume II, may be surprising when compared to the first-part, however, it’s a surprise that we’ve seen von Trier use way too many times before and by now, it seems like the man may have to find new, and improved ways to tell his stories. More like Volume I was.
6 / 10 = Rental!!