Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1
Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Shia Labeouf
Rotten Tomatoes: 77% (Certified Fresh)
Lars von Trier is known for crafting visually stunning, yet visually dour, films that strike a chord located in the deepest and darkest sections of our hearts. He has a way of creating an eerie atmosphere like no other and this film is no exception. Nymphomaniac’s story is told through a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac who is telling her life’s story in all of its graphic glory to a man who rescued her from a beating. As you can probably already guess, this one isn’t any walk in the park, but you should have expected that the moment you noticed Lars von Trier was directing.
I am a huge fan of films that are draped in realism. If you give me a movie that is smothered in dark, depression, difficult to watch, and, as a bonus, is also a bit controversial, I will most likely love it. While this movie has a bit of ways to go before people really begin to view it and repent, I know as a fact that it will go on to cult status. Joe, played by a monotone Charlotte Gainsbourg, is the nymphomaniac herself, telling her deeply depressing story to the much more charismatic Seligman, played by Stellan Skarsgård who throws in fly fishing references here and there, finding similarities between the sport and Joe’s story. There are two volumes with a total of eight chapters within the two volumes combined, five of which are explored in this volume. I have not seen the second installment and though it may make more sense to write a review of both of them together, I decided against it because I feel that there must a be a reason for these two films to be separate.
Joe begins her story hating herself. She assumes that Seligman will not understand her troubles, but on Seligman’s requests, she tells him her story anyway, not sparing any details. She tells him that even ever since she was a little girl she has sinned, thinking she is doomed to hell, probably for the deadly sin of lust. As she tells us her story, we begin to see that it’s not so much her fault than it is the people around her, but of course, she still believes that it is she who is to blame.
Say what you will about the content of this film, it is undeniably well-written. Daringly mixing themes such as lust and femininity together for a dark and emotionally engaging piece of experimental film making, Nymphomaniac is definitely a rare creation, and one to be reckoned with. Lars von Trier directs and writes with such honesty and power, it’s difficult not to admire its ideas. In a lot of films, sex is depicted using a fine toothed comb and a horrible lack of humanism that can only be explained by the U.S.’s current cultural state. This movie does a very interesting thing by using familiar articles as a type of medium for us to get into the mind of this character. Throughout Joe’s story, Seligman makes remarks about fly fishing and how it has strange similarities to Joe’s experiences. He also explains several things through different algebraic methods and even architecture. This gives us a point of view to watch from as the story progresses, therefore making the protagonist much more relatable. It also makes the story much more entertaining and intriguing; well, for me.
There is another film called Shame that explores similar subjects as this one. It is from Steve McQueen who is another film maker who tends to use realism as an asset to his works, and it is about a sex addict’s troubles and the fallout from such an addiction. Although it was an unflinching depiction of addiction, it lacked a human touch that, ironically, both of Steve McQueen’s two other films are very, very high in. Nymphomaniac is not guilty of this flaw. It finds a surprisingly engaging way to explore its dark and unusual themes that doesn’t go alienating the audience, which is something I’ve come to really respect from a movie, especially ones of these fashions.
“For every 100 crimes committed in the name of love, only one is committed in the name of sex.” This is a statement made by Joe that tells us that there may be a deeper reason for her illness. From this thought, I believe that she is so attracted to sex instead of a deeper feeling of love because it’s just much easier to deal with. As she also says, love is just sex added with jealousy. This may also have a correlation to another statement in the film that is made by Seligman who talks about how there two kinds of people in this world: People who cut the fingernails on the right hand first, and ones who cut the fingernails on the left hand first. People who tend to go for the left hand first are people who enjoy life more and like to use up all of the glamour first, before it gets difficult. Joe cuts her fingernails on the left hand first and she says that it’s because enjoyment should always come first, much like her view on relationships.
There is another character who tells Joe inside of one of her stories that “The secret ingredient to sex is love.” Joe doesn’t believe this at first, but then once she finally begins to feel love for Jerome, a man who has come into her life at multiple occasions, she is only ripped away from that belief once she brings him into her bed. I don’t mean to spoil anything, but this first volume ends with Joe, in bed with Jerome, panicking about not being able to feel a thing.
Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 is an intriguing and engaging film that finds its way up onto Lars von Triers finest works. Graphic without being conspicuous and emotional while not being melodramatic, Trier manages to craft another serious movie for serious audiences in fine and visually stunning detail. Some of the musical choices were questionable, especially the opening and closing heavy metal theme, and it could sometimes drag a bit, but those flaws were massively overtaken by its deep character study on a troubled soul and her road to self-righteousness. By the way, I’m the kind of guy who cuts the fingernails on my right hand first.
-Nymphomaniac: Volume 1: 4/5