Review: Nymphomaniac: Volume II
PLOT: Picking up right where VOLUME I left off, an older Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) finds herself unable to orgasm regardless of how many people she has sex with. As a result, she starks seeking other avenues of sexual gratification, including orgies and sadomasochism , while neglecting her family.
REVIEW: I don't think Lars von Trier's NYMPHOMANIAC can be looked at in any other way but as one film, despite it being released as two parts. The best way to appreciate the work as a whole is to watch both parts back-to-back, but given the length thats easier said than done. For those of you that were amused by the often tongue-in-cheek first half, be prepared for a much darker second half. If the first installment was somewhat empowering regarding Joe's unconventional sexuality, the second part zeroes in on the cost her addiction has to those around her. With von Trier transitioning from the younger Stacy Martin to Gainsbourg early on, this is a much harsher film than it's predecessor, and far more graphic in its depiction of sex (and this is still the toned-down version, with the unrated cut as of yet unreleased in North America).
One thing that's impossible not to notice about NYMPHOMANIAC is that it's probably the least sexy film about sex you'll ever see. If Joe's addiction, as played by the nubile Martin was seen as coquettish in VOLUME I, here it's part of Joe's downward spiral, which culminates in the alley beating she's recovering from as she relates her tale to Stellan Skarsgard's nonjudgmental Selligman. The first part wrung a lot of laughs out of Selligman's seemingly endless knowledge of religion, literature, and nature, with him viewing all of Joe's stories as some kind of metaphor, which von Trier seemed to take delight in depicting literally. That continues somewhat, although early on we learn a shocking truth about Selligman that gives us an intriguing new perspective on his character.
Unlike VOLUME I, the second half is less concerned with stunt casting, with Shia LaBeouf being much less prominent. While he wasn't terrible, his goofy accent and movie-star baggage made him a little tough to accept, although interestingly other unconventional casting choices like Uma Thurman and especially Christian Slater really paid off. Both are sadly absent here, although frequent von Trier player Willem Dafoe shows up in a small part as an unscrupulous businessman who manages to turn Joe's addiction into a surprisingly lucrative asset for the both of them.
One of the most shocking parts of VOLUME II involves Joe's experimentation with sadomasochism, involving a mysterious man (Jamie Bell) who inexplicably has middle-aged housewives lining up for hours in his stark, clinical office, in order for him to savagely beat them for his own sexual gratification. More than anything else in the movie, this part is tough to watch, and it's amazing to me how far Gainsbourg seems willing to go for von Trier, although it can't be denied that Joe is a fascinating part.
If VOLUME I was surprisingly upbeat even playful for a von Trier film, you can rest assured that by the time the credits roll on VOLUME II, NYMPHOMANIAC is just as stark and depressing as his other films minus a clever parody of his infamous opening sequence for ANTICHRIST. While obviously he's an acquired taste, von Trier's movies are always interesting, and while I full-on despised the ending (which felt like von Trier's big f**k you to the audience) it's still a pretty bold film, and obviously required viewing if you made it through the first part.