A report from the Nymphomaniac ‘One Night Stand’ event. It’s not what you might expect, but everything you’d expect from a Lars von Trier movie.
It would be easy to assume Nymphomaniac is a gratuitous and graphic sexual epic exploring the life of sex addict Joe, portrayed here by Stacy Martin, making her on-screen debut (what a place to start, huh?) in her early years and Charlotte Gainsbourg in later life. The stylized vulva font for the letter ‘O’ and the orgasm faces on the promotional poster from cast members Christian Slater, Uma Thurman and Willem Dafoe conversely evokes a farcical nature about Nymphomaniac. So what has the ever controversial filmmaker Lars von Trier produced to complete his Depression trilogy?
Though it screened at Curzon Chelsea in a shorter cut than that seen at the Berlin Film Festival (where audiences were treated to the full, five-hour uncut epic), Nymphomaniac is still an expectedly unpredictable journey told over eight chapters in two volumes. Over the chapters, Joe recalls her sex addicted journey to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), from adolescent self-sexual exploration, to the loss of her virginity, to casual promiscuity and concluding with middle-aged flagellation. Joe is self-deprecating, conveying little self-worth when she speaks to Seligman, who responds in an attempt to relate with digressions of impersonal cultural references to fly-fishing and Bach, but within the flashbacks Joe has moments of certainty, confidence and confusion.
Screened in a shorter cut than that seen at Berlin, Nymphomaniac is still an unpredictable journey told over eight chapters
As it is told with an air of fantasy, with Joe using items around Seligman’s room for inspiration for chapter headings and the film’s awareness of convenient coincidences in her life, it allows Nymphomaniac to focus on the subjective truth of Joe’s narration to further probe her psychological state. As with von Trier’s other two Depression films, Nymphomaniac shows a different and alternative depiction of depression. Antichrist had the emotional turmoil of She (reoccurring von Trier collaborator Gainsbourg) dealing with the guilt of losing her baby; Melancholia, more reminiscent of Trier’s Dogme 95 days, had Justine (Kirsten Dunst) experiencing an unexplainable misery and numbness to her wedding and the impending collision with Earth of a mysterious large planet.
In Nymphomaniac, von Trier has the opportunity over two volumes to delve into the multi-layered complexities of depression by using sex addiction as its basis. With moments of self-confidence when Joe first has sex games with other potential sex addicts, and then moments of self-denial as Joe openly sneers in SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) meetings proclaiming she is a nymphomaniac and not a sex addict, and she enjoys her lifestyle choice, and then desperation when she seeks out K (Jamie Bell), you get the inconsistency of depression.
Two factors that may shock viewers: firstly, there are some genuinely hilarious, blackly comedic set pieces, most notably that involving Mrs. H (Uma Thurman), which feels akin to a self-contained skit on a dark sketch show like Monkey Dust or Jam, when she confronts the young Joe and lover Mr. H (Hugo Speer). Secondly, and I’m only commenting on the BBFC-approved release, Nymphomaniac is surprisingly conservative. There is non-simulated sex, but in contrast to other von Trier films and the recently released Blue is the Warmest Colour, Nymphomaniac is tame about its own subject matter. But according to Stellan Skarsgård, this subversion of expectation is just von Trier.
What this epic amounts to is not a deep analysis of what it is to be a sex addict, but a quasi-fantastical depiction of it
Following the single screening of this two-volume epic, which is the best way to view Nymphomaniac (Vol. II doesn’t contain a recap of Vol. I), was a Q&A from cast members Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin and Sophie Kennedy Clark. As von Trier has refused to speak of the film, his reoccurring collaborator Skarsgård gave us an insight into von Trier’s work ethics and attitude. Skarsgård recounted von Trier’s response to Melancholia – he thought the film was too sentimental, so with Nymphomaniac the director made sure there would be a consistent playful “fuck you” to the audience.
Skarsgård also spoke of his first encounter with the project, with von Trier telling him his next film is going to be a porn film, in which Skarsgård would be the lead. Von Trier knew with a title like Nymphomaniac, along with his own reputation, that audiences would be expecting long static shots of graphic sex, but by keeping it restrained (to an extent, obviously there is a fair amount of unsimulated sex) the director forces the audience to focus on the issues the film attempts to raise.
What this epic amounts to is not a deep analysis of what it is to be a sex addict, but a quasi-fantastical depiction of sex addiction, interwoven with morality purposefully twisted to make the audience ponder. Joe may not be an apt representation of sex addiction, but in her we do get an interesting analysis of self-worth and depression. Von Trier has chosen the subject of sex addition to toy with self-satisfaction and unobtrusive depression.
All images: Central Partnership/Gutek Film/Artificial Eye/Aerofilms/Magnolia Pictures