Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1

As the Mynx, I of course was desperate to find out what the fuss was all about. And what a fuss it is. Let’s get one thing straight; this is NOT a ‘sexy’ movie. I welcome debate here and perhaps my feelings about that – sexy or not sexy – are defined and limited by my gender. That being said I have no problem with graphic sexual content. That is not the point. If you are looking for sexy go see “Blue is The Warmest Color.” That’ll fix you right up. This is a movie about addiction, obsession, power, and a war on love. Lars von Trier has never been a dainty wall flower, God bless him, and here he is really going for your jugular. Or maybe your femoral artery which runs right through your groin.

“Nymphomaniac,” at its most shallow, asks us to examine our reactions to a woman – a young woman – who is wildly pointedly promiscuous. Much like many young men are, and celebrated for being so. Do we judge her differently? If so why? By what measure do we decide whether her activity is “bad” or unhealthy? Is using sexuality for power wrong? Selfish? On a wholly other level, I asked myself if I am just a voyeur delighting in what I knew at the outset was a one way ticket to pain and suffering by the mere act of watching. Much of this is obvious to the viewer and that’s part of the fun. He is pushing right up against our stuff – our SEX STUFF. And you will find that your feelings during the film may differ substantially from those following the film. I feel that one of the things that von Trier does best is to escort you on a journey whose destination you are unprepared for. His films have to be digested. You may need some Tums, but ultimately digest them you will. And I cannot wait for Vol 2.

Our focus is Joe. Played as an adult by Charlotte Gainsbourg and as the young Joe by Stacy Martin, who comprises most of Volume 1. The opening sequence is beautiful. Dank, dark and hollow but truly beautiful. From there we are off and running with mature Joe, beaten, bloody and unconscious, being rescued by the strangely detached Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). We are grounded in the present time in a particularly claustrophibic room in Seligman’s home and the set and dialogue makes it feel much like a stage play. The room is so spartan it resembles something in a convent or parish. This is after all one long untethered confession, despite the characters deliberate references to lacking religion. Joe’s story then unfolds chronologically from childhood to a single young woman madly having sex with pretty much anyone who is willing and capable. Martin as young Joe is fairly wooden and I personally failed to see her allure, but maybe allure is unnecessary. There is a pointed lethargy to the narrative which contrasts well with the frenetic sexual activity. Seligman and Joe do not engage in a conversation per se as much as they talk at each other. Seligman tries mightily to make sense of her needs and actions through oblique analogies to fly fishing, but it yields a stilted quality to their exchanges. It did at times try my patience and the rambling, barely restrained, boundary pushing story lacks the spiritual and intellectual elegance von Trier so deftly achieved with “Melancholia.” He comes within a hairs breath of losing me…and then delivers a moment of emotion. Blessed emotion, which keeps us wanting and waiting for Volume 2.

Joe spends a great deal of time speaking about what a “bad” person she is, almost challenging us to prove her wrong. She may in fact be “bad” but it doesn’t really matter, or rather it doesn’t keep us from wanting to understand more, to know how we got back to the opening sequence of a bloodied beaten Joe. Uma Thurman is extremely powerful in a scene fused with such rage and anguish I could barely watch. Shia LaBeouf is Jerome, a more than one-night-stand and while the role doesn’t ask too much of him he is convincing and looks pretty good naked. And now might be the opportune time to say that almost everyone is naked. And the sex is absolutely graphic. There’s no messing around here. This is Hustler, NOT Playboy. While I cannot adequately assess it as a whole having not seen Vol. 2, I think there is a universality to the story which forces us to look at our addictions, the things we fight against and what we engage in to feel alive which all too often ends up killing off a part of ourselves. More to come. No pun intended.

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