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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Nymphomaniac: Extended Director's Cut Vol. 1 & 2 (Blu-ray)
Nymphomaniac: Extended Director's Cut Vol. 1 & 2 (Blu-ray)
Magnolia Home Entertainment // Unrated // November 25, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted December 2, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

"Love is just lust with jealousy added…"

Lars von Trier is no stranger to pushing boundaries, nor is he a director afraid to push buttons. His films tend to be intentionally provocative these days, and nowhere is that fact made more evident than his latest effort, Nymphomaniac. The movie was originally released in two parts and now is being reissued as an Extended Director's Cut, a two-disc set that includes longer versions of both parts running roughly five and a half hours in length.

The setup for the movie is simple enough. A woman in the onset of middle age named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) tells her strange life story to a man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) who previously found her on the street near his place, the victim of some sort of assault. As Joe begins to open up to Seligman, she shares with him some details of her childhood when she lived with her father (Christian Slater) and mother (Connie Nielsen), both of whom were cold and far from great parents. From there, she details the rather intimate fact that even at a young age, she knew she was a nymphomaniac. She tells him how, as a teenager (played by Stacy Martin) she came to this conclusion and how to satiate her needs she became very promiscuous and adventurous in her personal life. As Seligman gets to know this side of her pasts, we learn a bit about him. Though he's an older man, he's never been with a woman but what he may lack in the knowledge of sex, he makes up for with a vast knowledge of spiritual and theological matters.

Much of Joe's ‘issues' become clearer once she starts talking about her relationship with Jerome (Shia Labeouf), a man who she first takes as a lover, asking him if it would be a problem for him to take her virginity. She later winds up working with him. Given that she is basically just using different partners for sex and not reciprocating their admissions of love, you'd see how this might lead to issues but Jerome has got problems of his own. This doesn't stop Joe from essentially falling in love with him though, even if she'll never admit to it or accept it. After all, it's made clear in the film that what Joe is rebelling against with her actions and behaviors is love itself. Seligman listens to all of this quite intently but also shares with Joe stories of his interests, far more prurient diversions such as fishing and reading. Joe's actions spill over and have consequences. The most obvious scene where this is hammered home being the one in which the wife of one of her playthings, referred to as Mrs. H (Uma Thurman), lashes out for what Joe's done to her family when her husband, Mr. H (Hugo Speer), leaves his wife for her.

When Joe seemingly reaches her limit and is no longer able to feel pleasure from the countless sex acts she's experimented with, she winds up ‘settling' into something like a relationship with Jerome. When she does this, she loses her youth and the years catch up with her quickly. Throwing a child into the mix does nothing to change her and as the story progresses further, Joe needs more and more to try go get off. This leads her into an exploration and then full on embracement of sadomasochism primarily at the hands of a man named K (Jamie Bell). When she loses her job because she won't go to therapy she takes a position working for L (Willem Dafoe) as a debt collector. Her she finds her knack for talking partners into bed is equally effective at getting money out of those who don't want to pay. This eventually leads to Joe taking on a newcomer named P (Mia Goth), which in its own strange way, brings the story full circle.

At its simplest, Nymphomaniac is a (really long) confession. Joe tells Seligman what she's done, effectively confession her sins to this wiser, gentler, older man who could have very easily been a priest. The audience is, in turn, privy to all of this and through the extensive and graphic flashbacks, we too come to understand what Joe has been through and what has led her to wind up in Seligman's care in the first place. In a lot of ways the movie is a deceptively simple one: woman has sex, woman gets into trouble, woman has a lot more sex, woman winds up punished. Von Trier's films are often unkind to female protagonists, and Nymphomaniac is certainly no exception to that. More sensitive viewers should be advised that the S&M scenes are not for the faint of heart and that he sex in the film is every bit as graphic as you've probably heard, but then, more sensitive viewers aren't likely going to be drawn to this particular picture in the first place. As the third part of the director's ‘depression trilogy' (which started with Antichrist and then Melancholia), Nymphomaniac does once again deal in themes of spirituality and religion and there are metaphors to this scattered throughout the movie. We also see him returning once again to a story that revolves around a female lead whose character may very well be unstable, though interestingly enough (and rather poignantly) Seligman does offer Joe some redemption towards the end of the movie by telling her that had she been a man, most of the social stigma levied at her for her lifestyle choices would have been irrelevant. We also see von Trier toy with aspects of reality and fantasy in that there are moments where Joe recounts her life to Seligman where we can't really be sure if she's telling him the truth or just trying to get a reaction out of her. As such, it stands to reason that if you haven't appreciated (it can be tough to use the word ‘enjoy' when talking about some of the director's work) what von Trier has done, cinematically and thematically, over the years that this maybe isn't the best starting point. Nymphomaniac is as heavy, dark and disturbing as anything he's done prior.

The movie is very well acted. Skarsgård, who at this point is a von Trier regular, is perfectly believable and very well cast as the ‘kindly' older man who takes Joe in to help her out. He plays the wise man role well and although the (surprisingly predictable) ‘twist' at the end feels a bit overdone his performance never goes too far. Likewise, Martin and Gainsbourg, who play Joe as very different characters (which makes sense when you consider how different one is as a teenager than as a fifty year old) but never break character or fail to convince. Supporting efforts from Christian Slater and Uma Thurman in particular are very good too, as is Willem Dafoe in his small but important part. Shia LaBeouf is cast against type here but delivers the same sort of performance you'd expect him to if you've seen him in other pictures. In his defense, it works and it suits his character well. You need a certain sort of abrasiveness to make a character like Jerome work and LaBeouf makes it work.

As to the sex in the movie, it's interesting how it was shot. Von Trier had his principal cast go about bumping and grinding but the close ups and insertions and more explicit moments were done by adult film actors and then digitally put into the picture. Some prosthetics were also used. The movie also has an interesting soundtrack to go along with all of the visual stimulation, mixing up classical music and modern pieces but not seeming to use any original compositions.

So this is a ‘director's cut', right? Yes, as stated this thing runs five and a half hours, quite a bit longer than the previously released theatrical versions. As to what has been put back into the movie, well… we'll try not to get too spoilery here but to an extent we have to. To start, there's quite a bit of explicit content reinstated. This means you're going to see lots of hard sex, close-up shots of genitals and things being done to genitals and what happens after things are done to those genitals, meaning fluids and occasionally the expulsion thereof. There is sometimes a valid reason for this, a good example being the scene in which Joe orally pleasures the married man who was saving up the goods in hopes of impregnating his wife. This adds a layer to Joe's selfishness in this regard. Additionally, there's a fair bit more character development, particularly when it comes to Joe's younger years and her relationship with her father and the effects of his passing. There's also a disturbing abortion sequence put back in along with a conversation that follows. We see more of Joe's relationship with Jerome when Joe finds he's run off with the secretary and get some extensions in bits of dialogue between Joe and Seligman. Both the explicit material and the character development bits do make for a better rounded movie, with the harder material working as an interesting (and often times ridiculous) juxtaposition to the quieter and more dramatic parts of the movie. The story as a whole would seem to be more engaging with this material put back in.

The Blu-ray:

Nymphomaniac arrives in its director's cut extended edition on Blu-ray from Magnolia Films in a 2.35.1 widescreen transfer presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Shot on digital video there are obviously no issues with print damage and while some scenes look softer than others, you definitely get the impression that it's intentional. Generally detail is excellent, particularly in close up shots while color reproduction is strong throughout. Skin, and there's plenty of it here, looks nice and natural and black levels are strong. Aside from some really minor ringing noticeable during some of the digital effects used in the parts of the film, the image is a very strong one. Despite the lengthy running time of the feature, there are no issues with compression artifacts (Magnolia have split the two parts of this film onto two BD50 discs, which was probably a wise move in that regard).

Sound:

The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on the disc is also very strong. The music used to make up the movie's soundtrack (which uses a lot of classical music, as is typical of Von Trier's films, as well as more modern stuff like Rammstein!) comes through with gorgeous clarity and really helps to emphasize the impact of a few key scenes. Dialogue is crisp and clear in the quiet scenes while things build quite well and rather appropriately in the more active scenes which have some nice use of the rear channels to build ambience. There are no alternate language audio options included though there are subtitles provided in English SDH and in Spanish.

Extras:

Extras appear to be pretty much identical to those included on the single disc releases. So here's what you get…

DISC ONE:

The main extra on the first disc is a ten minute long featurette called The Characters which is basically Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgård and Shia LaBeouf talking about the rolls that they play in the movie. LaBeouf talks about how the role appealed to him as it was very different than anything he'd played before, Skarsgård talks about the realism in the film and in how it depicts things while Gainsbourg and Martin share their respective takes on the older/younger version of Joe that they play in the picture. Aside from that we get an AXS TV: A Look at Nymphomaniac piece that uses some of the interview footage from the other featurette and splices it in with some clips from the film, a trailer for the feature and a teaser for the director's cut edition.

DISC TWO:

There are two main extras on the second disc, the first of which is a nine minute long featurette called The Director in which Gainsbourg, Martin, Skarsgård and LaBeouf share their thoughts on what it was like working with Lars von Trier on this project and their thoughts on his effectiveness and talents as a director. The second featurette runs seven minutes and is entitled The Sex. Here the same interviewees discuss what it was like working on the sex scenes that are obviously such a big part of this particular film. A trailer for the second part of Nymphomania is also included on the disc.

Both discs in the set feature animated menus and chapter selection. Previews for a few other unrelated Magnolia Releasing titles play before the main menu screens load on both discs.

Final Thoughts:

Nymphomaniac is a ridiculously long and sometimes very messy (literally and figuratively) blend of arthouse filmmaking and pornography but somehow it actually works quite well, even more so in the director's cut which fleshes out central characters in more satisfying ways. Obviously, given the extreme content, this is not a movie for all tastes and not everyone will appreciate the humor, the beauty, the ugliness and the horror inherent in all that von Trier has accomplished here. The Blu-ray is a bit disappointing in the extra features department but it looks and sounds as good as you'd want it to. For those who do appreciate the director's work or who enjoy scratching below the surface to think about the way that visuals and metaphors and performances both subtle and over-the-top can collide to make ‘art' the extended director's cut comes recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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