Even though Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Volume I is a strong film, it feels awkward and incomplete by itself. I know that I've said it several times, but I'll say it again. It was a massive mistake to split this feature into two volumes and release them a few weeks apart. Even if they wanted to distribute them separately, they should have at least been released on the same day. Now that Nymphomaniac: Volume II is available on demand and will soon be released in cinemas, it's time for American audiences to finish the Depression Trilogy that has been going on for years. With the first volume being as impressive as it is, viewers truly want to know whether the second volume is as potent. As is expected out of the final half of a motion picture, it only becomes more insane. Audiences should be pleased to know that this is just as powerful as the first volume.
Picking up after Nymphomaniac: Volume I, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) continues to recount her sexual experiences to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). She still claims that she is a horrible human being, as she implies to just be touching the surface of her stories. She begins to speak of the darker aspects of her adult life, as she continues to fall deeper into her sex addiction. As she gets older, she begins to discover new desires that will only put her further into the hole that she can't seem to dig her way out of.
Writer/director Lars von Trier has a very unique style that he continues to utilize in this volume. Rather than following the typical structure that we're used to seeing in motion pictures, this filmmaker provides a tone more similar to that of a novel. Each section of the story is tied to a specific tone, which is given a chapter title that ties it all together. Joe associates her stories with objects and images that she sees around the bedroom. At times, this leads us to question how reliable she is as a narrator. Seligman even criticizes a few of her comments and questions her honesty. Nymphomaniac: Volume II is smart enough to move away from all of the metaphors and juxtaposition provided in the first volume, as to avoid becoming repetitive. Rather, it provides an entirely new dose of it that aids in providing numerous layers for us to peel. The film touches upon many of them, but none of it is spoon fed to us. This motion picture trusts us to interpret its symbolism, which is a breath of fresh air. The complexities of this motion picture are sure to spark conversation after the credits are done rolling, which is what good filmmaking does.
When I said that the second volume is more intense than the first, I wasn't kidding. Joe is convinced that she wants to get involved with a man named K (Jamie Bell). He has women waiting in a lobby, waiting to get an appointment with him. K is an S&M dominator who beats the women in a variety of different ways. However, he has numerous rules that must be followed by all, including that he will never actually have sex with any of them, and that there are no safe words. Once he begins, there is no stopping him, no matter how much they scream. K represents Joe's curiosity for this darker side of sexuality, which ultimately transforms into an obsession. She's willing to sacrifice almost anything in order to attend these sessions. This risks her relationship with her family and includes a reference to one of Lars von Trier's previous entries in the Depression Trilogy. Despite the series that it is a part of, that doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a speck of humor. In fact, the screenplay offers some rather funny lines of dialogue coming from the mouth of Seligman, as he reacts to Joe's incredibly dark encounters.
Now that Joe has been speaking to Seligman about her stories for quite some time, he has become more than just an observer. Seligman gets a lot more opportunities to speak with Joe, as their paths begin to collide. Joe questions his ability to listen to her stories and accurately judge her, but he proves that he's actually the best that she could have found. However, there's a lot more to this relationship than what there appears to be from the surface. Lars von Trier has crafted an ending that you will either find to be disappointing or exceptional. I found myself in the latter category, as the final few moments of the running time will truly make you look at the film in a completely different way than you were throughout it. This is the sign of a true artist, as Lars von Trier is able to perfectly manipulate the viewers and turn the film upside down. You'll be sure to see a completely different meaning in what you've been watching.
There are a lot of time jumps, creating changes in casting for some of the same roles. Meanwhile, there are also some new characters introduced for this second volume. Stacy Martin did a wonderful job as Young Joe, but she has now passed the torch to Charlotte Gainsbourg to play Joe in both the past and the present. She's absolutely marvelous, as she delivers a powerful performance that will stick in your mind for days. Whether she's speaking to Seligman or mentally preparing herself for her first encounter with S&M, she truly creates an atmosphere that few others would have been able to do. Stellan Skarsgård has returned in the role of Seligman. Now that he has received a bigger part, he's able to truly show how perfect he is for the character. When Skarsgård and Gainsbourg begin to debate concepts and themes back and forth, it will keep every audience member entirely engaged. Another returning cast member is Shia LaBeouf as Jerôme. This casting decision truly bothered me in the first volume, but he's much more tolerable here. His accent is still quite poor, but there are character transitions that he handles quite well. The best addition to the cast is Jamie Bell as K. He's absolutely outstanding in this role, as he gets under the skin of audiences. Even though we only see him during Joe's sessions, he commands the screen and delivers on an intimidating tone. All of the performances are quite strong, as they make for a captivating experience that never lets go.
This second volume provides a very similar visual atmosphere to that of the previous entry. However, Lars von Trier utilizes different color palettes and camera work for scenes that take place in the past as opposed to the present, yet the sex sequences are portrayed in the same manner. Lars von Trier displays them as an addiction, rather than as erotic content. Regardless of how dark the content becomes, there is still a sense of beauty in each and every frame. There is a lot of editing that stitches the past to the present. The editing is incredibly smooth, allowing for the pacing to never be interrupted.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II is a dark and unsettling motion picture that gets under the skin of its viewers. This is an impressive way for Lars von Trier to end the Depression Trilogy, as he utilizes many unique story mechanics that many filmmakers would never dream of attempting. It touches upon many fascinating themes, such as female sexuality, addiction, love, loss, and the sense of control and power. There are many complex layers that aid in making this an excellent moviegoing experience for art house cinemagoers. With both volumes together, I give the film 4.5/5 stars. The reason why I subtracted 0.5 from this volume is due to the awkward split between volumes. Nymphomaniac: Volume II is a magnificent piece of art that leaves quite the impression. Highly recommended!
Nymphomaniac: Volume I is currently in theaters & VOD.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II is currently on VOD and will be released in theaters on April 4, 2014.