There are many different types of artists out there. Whether we're discussing paintings, music, or film, it's all the same. Some artists move along with the mainstream movement, while others work against it. They aren't afraid to stir the pot, although this decision comes with many of its own risks. Not only can it be difficult to get funding, but the target audience will be more limited and it has the chance of creating a more negative reaction within communities. Well, these are usually the people who ultimately leave lasting impressions on us, regardless of whether our reactions are positive or negative. I always deeply respect filmmakers who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty and make something unique. Writer/director Lars von Trier has been doing this for many years, and he shows no sign of stopping. His newest film has been split into two volumes, which are being released separately. It's the finally entry in the so-called "Depression Trilogy," following his previous features Antichrist and Melancholia. You should already know if this is for you or not.
While walking to his home, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) comes across a beaten woman by the name of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) laying on the cold ground. He gives her a bed to rest on and ensures that she is as comfortable as can be. Joe is a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac and is convinced that she's a bad human being, while Seligman tries to deny it. She begins to recount her erotic experiences since childhood that have ultimately led her to be in the beaten condition that Seligman has found her in.
The first reaction that audiences seem to have after seeing the film is that this is nothing more than "glorified pornography." Anybody claiming this simply doesn't understand what they watched. He portrays sex in a completely different light than it is generally shown in. Even though the act of sex is a crucial piece of the puzzle, it has more to do with the lead's addiction. She isn't doing this for either the man's pleasure or her own. The sex scenes are intentionally passionless, as romanticizing any of it would ruin the entire point of the film. It's clear that many audiences don't quite understand what Lars von Trier is trying to get across. Nymphomaniac: Volume I is about female seduction, addiction, power, control, and so much more. There are a lot of deep themes and messages here that will surely make many audiences feel uncomfortable, but isn't that the point? This art house drama isn't meant to leave you feeling happy and excited. Instead, it explores a dark side of sexuality that's very interesting. This is all displayed within Joe's perspective, as she grows from a young girl into a woman. Since she's narrating her past, it truly allows us to get in her mind and understand why she does the things that she does. However, what starts as a sexual game on the train with a friend transforms into a serious addiction.
One of the strongest assets found in Nymphomaniac: Volume I is Lars von Trier's screenplay. There are a lot of metaphors that are extremely unique. The parallelism shown between female seduction and a fishing nymph is extraordinary. This example is one of the many ways that Lars von Trier has managed to turn what could have been a predictable mess into a calculated and well-crafted screenplay. The pacing moves extremely well, as Joe's situations become progressively more serious as time goes on. To put it simply, the dialogue is great, especially as Joe and Seligman discuss related concepts in greater depth. I got the feeling that with each line of dialogue, I was learning more about the characters as people. This isn't a very simple goal to accomplish, but Lars von Trier is successful. It's very intriguing to see how one's sexuality changes over time with increasing age and altering life situations. This is a raw representation that isn't afraid to explore such places.
Even though the screenplay may be well-crafted, I had difficulty following Joe's obsession for Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf), who is surely the most arrogant character in this volume. She has a very odd connection to him that I had difficulty following. However, once it returned to Joe and not only her sex life, but her family life, it pulled me right back in. Nymphomaniac: Volume I offers some truly strong dynamics between the characters. Joe explores many relationships in her life and the effect that they have had on her over time. Even the men that she slept with have left impressions on her that have changed her in one way or another. While the entire picture is rather captivating, there are several notable moments that will leave you feeling both uncomfortable, as well as the effects of a whirlwind of your own emotions constantly occurring within your mind.
You might have seen portions of the smart campaign for Nymphomaniac: Volume I online. The "O" face character posters are wonderful, as they capture these characters in a way no other film has previously. They also capitalize on the name and likeness of the actors that will help drive hype. Charlotte Gainsbourg is impressive as Joe in the present day. She will undoubtedly have more to do in the next volume, but her discussions with Seligman feel authentic and precise. Stellan Skarsgård is just as excellent as Seligman. Once the conversation with Joe truly gets going, he works with Gainsbourg incredibly well. This might be Stacy Martin's first motion picture, but she does a pretty solid job as Young Joe. She's fairly convincing, as she never lost my attention for a single moment. Uma Thurman has a small part here as Mrs. H, but she makes her scene one of the most memorable ones of the entire feature. This is an exceptional supporting performance that excels on every level. Perhaps the biggest casting misstep in the entire film is Shia LaBeouf as Jerôme. While I suppose he does an alright job at playing arrogant, he simply doesn't fit here. LaBeouf sticks out like a sore thumb. I had difficulty taking his scenes seriously, since his presence is always so annoyingly obvious. However, the rest of the casting choices are spot on here.
Not only is Lars von Trier an excellent writer, but he's also very clear with his visuals. The color palette and overall tone of the picture ooze with meaning. Not only are many of the metaphors provided through the dialogue, but a lot of them are displayed through the visual style. Many directors would have shot the sex scenes with a sense of passion and sensuality, but not Lars von Trier. Instead, there are a lot of close-ups on Joe, as her addiction takes ahold of her. There isn't anything romantic about these sequences, as they're portrayed as any other addiction would be in a movie similar to this. Nymphomaniac: Volume I has a raw and natural appearance that further empowers this picture to be what it is.
Even though this volume is quite strong, it's such a shame that it has been split into two parts for American audiences. This is meant to be one complete film, but a lot of the effect is ruined by cutting it into two different motion pictures. Regardless of this huge issue, Lars von Trier has impressed me with the first volume of his final feature in the "Depression Trilogy." The screenplay is well-crafted and the pacing moves quite smoothly. Regardless of the fact that this is about sexuality, this is by no means a pornographic or "sexy" motion picture, as it's about addiction, power, and control. Lars von Trier continues to stir the pot and create his own style, which I applaud. Nymphomaniac: Volume I is impressive filmmaking that accomplishes some truly daunting feats. Highly recommended!
Nymphomaniac: Volume I is currently on VOD and will be released in theaters on March 21, 2014.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II is currently on VOD and will be released in theaters on April 4, 2014.