Nymphomaniac: Volume I and II Blu-ray Review
Lars von Trier’s films are always a surprise, since you never really know what you’re going to get with the eccentric director. I appreciate what he tries to do and I respect that he likes to do different things and shun the Hollywood way, but it doesn’t always work. NYMPHOMANIAC was very promising and as the first volume closed, I thought maybe this would be the film where von Trier put everything together and would tell a deep, powerful story and not let the gimmick (in this case, nudity) get in the way. Unfortunately, volume 2 derailed everything a bit and left me disappointed and wondering what could have been.
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME 1 – (6/10)
We get off to a good start; Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) comes across a battered and beaten Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying in the street. He helps her up and brings her back to his apartment, where Joe proceeds to tell him her life story. Joe is a self diagnosed nymphomaniac and at this point, looks down on herself for her past transgressions and seems lost as to what she’s going to do with herself. The film is then told in a series of flashbacks, only occasionally coming back to Joe and Seligman’s discussions in the present.
Joe starts the story by recounting an unusual incident when she was a little girl and although uncomfortable, it sets the stage that Joe has dealt with her “condition” since puberty. The story picks up when she’s a teenager (played by Stacy Martin) and the first “shocking” moment comes when Joe tells the story of how she and her friend spent the day on a train and slept with as many men as possible, with Joe eventually winning the contest. We follow the young teenage Joe as she continues to explore her sexual desire, eventually moving to the city and taking up numerous partners. But her “love” is with her first partner, Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), who seems to come in and out of her life at various times.
There’s little explanation for what’s driving Joe’s desire to have so many sexual partners and at times the first volume feels more like a collection of sex scenes than a movie. Each story that Joe tells propels her to another sexual stage, but Joe as a character doesn’t really evolve. She moves from the small town to the city, where she takes on many partners, but she’s almost more of an object, where men just show up to have sex with her. She doesn’t learn to seduce or take control of her desire; she kind of just lets it happen. This makes Joe an empty character, with empty decisions that makes it difficult for the audience to care about her plight, even if we do care about where her story is going.
The first volume was incomplete, leaving more questions than answers. But it succeeds because I truly wanted to know what was driving her sexual appetite, how it made her feel, how she dealt with it, the why and how it was progressing etc. I expected those questions to be answered in Volume II, but unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME II – (4/10)
The second volume picks up right where the first one left off, with Joe telling her tale to Seligman. We learn quickly that Joe and Jerome are now in love and they even have a child together. This is where things start to take a drastic turn, changing the course of the story. Joe’s nymphomania has now completely taken over her life, to the point where Jerome realizes he can’t physically keep up with her and he gives her permission to sleep with other men. But perhaps the bigger problem is that casual sex is no longer enough for Joe and she has to seek other, more dangerous sexual options. That leads her to a strange S&M relationship with K (Jamie Bell). That “relationship” is the reason she abandons her kid and loses all contact with Jerome. Joe never really seems remorseful for this and instead chalks it up to a side effect to her condition.
Right before her demise into strange sex, von Trier changes from Stacy Martin to Charlotte Gainsbourg, with seemingly only three years passing and the film was different because of it. While Martin played Joe as a naïve, yet sexually confident girl, Gainsbourg played Joe as a depressed woman coping with a disease it seemed like she wished she didn’t have. He also changed Jerome, with Shia LaBeouf being replaced by Michael Pas. This change was a horrible decision since a little makeup would’ve made LaBeouf look older and it wouldn’t have been such a distraction.
But von Trier completely lost me when Joe went from a timid office clerk to a debt collector for a mafia-like figure (played by Willem Dafoe). It was a strange turn for a character the audience thought they knew. Her exploits as a debt collector led her to take on a female protégé, which lead to more out of character moments for Joe, who at this point was unable to have sex due to so much abuse in her younger years. This is where the movie felt like an action b-movie rip-off where the old assassin trains a protégé that eventually turns on them. It was out of place and derailed the film.
Of course, the most discussed thing about NYMPHOMANIAC is the graphic sex and nudity and there’s plenty of it to go around. In most cases, it was completely unnecessary as I’m not sure actually witnessing Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg perform oral sex was necessary to the story, when a less graphic shot would have sufficed. But perhaps von Trier’s greatest decision with NYMPHOMANIAC was casting the two Joe’s since neither of them are strikingly beautiful. Because of that, the sex scenes felt less like porn and more like something you’d see in a health class. That actually worked in the film’s favor since von Trier had little to say about sex, other than that some people really like it.
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME I AND II BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Both volumes look crystal clear on Blu-ray, showing off the obviously digital source material.
Audio: The audio was just as impressive.
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME I
The Characters (9:41): The actors sit down to briefly discuss their characters and how they approached them.
AXS TV: A Look at Nymphomaniac (3:01): A brief promo spot for the movie.
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME II
The Director (8:49): Everyone talks about how great Lars von Trier is.
The Sex (7:12): The cast talks about the sex scenes, but not so much what was real and what wasn’t, but more about how they were filmed. Most of the sex scenes were famously real, but that’s not discussed much in this featurette.