Home > Film & stuff > My Thoughts on ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. I’

My Thoughts on ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. I’

I’ve never met Lars von Trier. There are many obvious reasons for that, but I’m not sure I’d even take the opportunity if it came up. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that his public persona is that of an insufferable prick. Maybe it’s calculated, maybe it’s not – reports of his bouts with depression do help explain some of his bizarre behavior. And that darkness certainly explains his films. Anyone who saw Dogville knows it wasn’t made by a director with a sunny disposition.

His latest, Nymphomaniac: Vol. I, is every bit as twisted and depraved as anything he’s ever made (Vol. II releases in April, so I may be speaking too soon). But after he felt the wrath of the press and public a few years back due to some bizarre comments at a press conference, he no longer comes across as an angry, misanthropic

Image via praguepost.com

Looking for strangers on a train… (Image via praguepost.com)

auteur. Amazingly, with this most recent film, he seems to be having a lot of fun. And I had a lot of fun watching it… but it still hurts, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If there were movie rental stores left, the title would certainly make most any passerby take notice and pick up the box (remember those days? Barely). Much like von Trier’s 2009 masterpiece, Antichrist, the title is a bit mysterious, salacious and probably offensive to some. That being said, anyone who has seen a von Trier film before knows that the provocative title is only a tiny hint at the insanity/violence/sex to come.

Though it’s been said that von Trier has driven away his leading ladies in the past, Charlotte Gainsbourg is back for more, thank goodness. The duo previously worked on Antichrist and Melancholia together. I can’t even imagine what a day on set with these two is like. She continues to be arguably the most interesting actress working. In Volume I, she does scarcely more than speak from a bed, but she is riveting. She’s been smacked around some – bruised and bloodied – but she’s nonchalant about her condition. It’s hard to tell if she’s resigned to her injuries because it’s the kind of thing that happens often or if it’s because she thinks she deserved it… probably both. Whatever she’s going through, it isn’t healthy. The infinitely entertaining Stellan Skarsgård takes her into his humble home and offers her a comfy place to stay while she regales him with tales of her myriad sexual exploits that began as a young teenager. They make for an interesting pair: She hates herself and finds no good in anything she’s ever done, while he seems almost painfully optimistic and forgiving.

Her stories are told in flashbacks and her younger self is played by an actress named Stacy Martin, who has no previous credits on any filmography I’ve found. This is one hell of a first role. Plenty has been written about the film’s graphic sex already and there’s no need for me to rehash every infamous scene. For one thing, I don’t want to spoil any of it. Second, I’ve seen the phrase “penis montage” more times over the past few days than I care to remember, so I don’t need to add to the ballyhoo. That being said, Martin’s performance is remarkable. It’s too bad the film’s graphic nature will kill any chance of her being widely recognized. Whether she’s literally exposing herself or sharing a tender moment with her father, she is captivating. Even though she’s a beautiful young woman, she’s brings a subtle unsexy aura to a sad character who’s hopelessly addicted to sex. The nuance she gives the role is commendable and necessary. A lesser actress would play the part vampy, which would undermine the whole story.

I need to mention that her father is played by Christian Slater. It’s a sly bit of casting. He was a heartthrob in the ‘90s, yet he plays a nonsexual, ailing man in a film about sexual deviance. The normally beautiful Uma Thurman also strips away all shimmer in a role I hope gets her an Oscar nomination (it won’t). In a flashback scene that jumps between utter hilarity and heartbreaking despair, she has the unsexy role of a betrayed, groveling housewife who can barely hold it together in the home of the woman her husband is screwing. She even schleps her three young sons along with her so they can say goodbye to daddy. It’s painful and brilliant.

I don’t want to go into much more detail than that because it’s too unique and strange to explain faithfully. At times, the movie employs some pseudo-philosophy that made me feel like I was watching a dark comedy. Later, the film moves into classic tragedy, punctuated with dramatic flair. In the midst of all the wild emotions and emotionless sex, a legitimate love story even pokes through. Well, as much of a love story as a film like this can muster. This is von Trier we’re talking about, after all.

There is no “happily ever after” here.

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  1. February 20, 2015 at 7:15 am

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