The second half of the abridged, two-part cinema release version of Lars Von Trier’s latest work is sillier than the first, requiring disbelief to be suspended from the get go, and shoots off in various disparate directions, but just about manages to keep a sense of cohesion.
The set-up is as before, with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Joe (the titular nymphomaniac) telling the wild, improbable and very, very NSFW story of her life to Stellan Skarsgård’s passive Seligman. This time we learn rather more about both parties, as these two develop their own relationship quite unlike anything Joe has experienced before.
The stories told are somewhat familiar in tone, though they are certainly not wanting for shock value. In one particular scene, Von Trier frames Charlotte Gainsbourg with a pair of big black penises, while another has young British national treasure Jamie Bell repeatedly punching Gainsbourg across the face, something which elicited a highly inappropriate but probably entirely expected guffaw.
The ludicrous nature of many of the tales told is not shied away from, such as in the scene where Stacy Martin’s coquettish younger Joe seems to draw an entire traffic jam’s worth of male drivers into her sexual maelstrom. Fohnhouse favourite Udo Kier makes his usual appearance for a short comedy scene – whatever your understanding of the game of ‘spoons’ is, it probably is not the same as that which is played here.
Von Trier plays with a trashier aesthetic in this one – it’s all threesomes and surprise lesbianism and gun-toting femme fatales. Willem Defoe appears as a devious crime lord in the concluding tale which sees Joe transform into a heavy for the mob, using her sexual powers as a weapon. As usual, you get the impression that Von Trier is daring you to call bullshit on the whole affair, never more so than in the scene in which Joe finds her ‘soul tree’.
By the time Joe’s past catches up with her future, the magic realism aspect of the film has taken hold, as everything ties together perfectly. The alley in which Seligman found Joe, a Von Trier nowhere place, turns out to be an even more potent space, a literal channel between Joe’s past and present, and even her future. Just where on Earth is this film supposed to be set anyway? Von Trier continues to explore themes he has touched on before, with this magical aspect taken from Melancholia (amongst others), a recreation of the opening of Antichrist (with a happier outcome) and the injection of an element of crime.
The final moments of the film are rather too predictable, but not unfaithful to what has come before. Von Trier wants to deconstruct human relationships, to reduce everything that we are and do. In some ways we are all of us Joe, damaged by human interaction, but in others we are Seligman, isolated and alone, bound by the theoretical and the terrifying possibility of life. That these two poles must repel is not a surprise, and the film ends with a suitably final rupture.
The bitty nature of this review reflects the fractured form and themes of the work itself. Do I give it five out of five for sheer audacity, or punish the deliberately silly bits? Do I praise the beauty of many of the shots or decry their lack of real meaning. I don’t know. I will probably never know. I gave Melancholia 4/5 because it touched me despite its imperfections. Let’s give Nymphomaniac the same. But it really must be seen to be judged.
Come back soon, Mr Von Trier. Make a children’s film. Do something to really scare us. Just please never get boring – we need filmmakers like you.