Lars Von Trier’s latest work proves just how simultaneously serious and silly he can be. Nymphomaniac is the final in his trilogy about depression; the first two films in the series being Antichrist and Melancholia. Split into two volumes, the film’s total running time is over four hours. In Denmark it was released as one five hour film, in the UK it was cut an hour shorter and split into two volumes that were released at the same time. In America the two volumes will be released separately. This confusion and complexity of release is what we expect from Lars Von Trier. Known for being a trickster, Lars Von Trier’s films have always had an underlying sense of a private joke between the films and their maker. It is the arrogance and manipulative nature of his cinema that has often turned me off. I was impressed by the likes of Dancer in the Dark but also disliked its emotional manipulation. Antichrist was artistic and atmospheric but ultimately pretty ludicrous. I can never take Lars Von Trier’s cinema particularly seriously but that doesn’t stop me from admiring some of his work.
Nymphomaniac suffers from a different set of problems than the likes of Dancer in the Dark, for example. The film tells the story of Joe, a “sex addict” who hates that very description. When she is found beaten in a dingy alley, she tells her life story to the stranger who rescues her. The main bulk of the film is told in flashback, returning to Joe’s childhood and moving through her life. Her stories are occasionally interrupted as her rescuer feels the need to analyse her and compare her, and her state, to that of fish and other such boring nonsense. Although these interruptions are acted beautifully by both Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgård they are the most irritating sections of the film. Other reviewers have reacted differently but to me these scenes felt highly structured and detract from the fluidity of the film. The conclusion of the film also destroys any sentiment these encounters may have had, but perhaps that’s almost saying too much; my apologies. The performances are all of a high standard. Even Shia LaBeouf gives a good performance but sadly his accent is far too comical and remains a constant distraction when he is on screen. The best performance comes from Stacy Martin in her debut role as the younger Joe. She is a fresh face and a revelation.
When it wanted to be, the film was insightful and meaningful but for most of the four hours it is dull and ridiculous. Anything important is has to say seems to be about death and loneliness. I was thoroughly disappointed with how little exploration into sexuality there was. Sex appears nasty and clinical throughout the two volumes and it is difficult to connect with anything or anyone. Of course, this is likely to be Von Trier’s intention. Fan boys will be enthralled, I have no doubt. There was more of a narrative than some of his other work but still not enough to convince me that this was the complex work of a deep thinker or a cinematic artist. Lars Von Trier seems to spend more time entertaining himself than anyone else. Some find this intriguing and amusing; I find it boring and tiring. Nymphomaniac could have been two hours. I don’t think enough is said or explored to justify making audience’s pay for the film twice. Nymphomaniac had potential but ultimately fails to deliver anything of true substance. Struggling with the arrogance and self obsession found in his work, I remain unconverted to this prankster’s cinematic ventures. Anything I say against Nymphomaniac would probably be addressed by Von Trier as “being the whole point” so I find that my hands are tied – ironically, a bit like Joe’s are at several points in the film.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.