I saw the movie almost a week ago and I only now have the motivation to write up a review. Why? I was utterly underwhelmed. The film tried too hard to prove it is more than a movie, that it is art and shall be respected… it was condescending and basically interpreted itself, something that pissed me off to no end.
(The following review contains spoilers. Also, this is NOT a positive review. If you liked it, spare yourself the anger, okay?)
Best scene is at the beginning
We start with a black screen; only noises alert the viewer that the film has already begun. It is the sound of rain as it falls, trickles down walls and hits echoing surfaces that starts off “Nymphomaniac” in a way that enticed me after I ignored my boredom. In retrospect, it was pointless. The rain never features again in part I but then again, maybe the film will come full circle in its sequel…
After we see rain fall and trickle and elicit sounds from surfaces, we glimpse a hand in close up, slightly bloodied. The camera disappears into a shaft and we are introduced to Seligman, who is on a grocery run and sees the woman lying in a back alley.
That is when the soundtrack enters with a BANG, blasting Rammstein’s “Fühle mich” full force. Nice! Not really adding to the narrative or symbolic meaning or anything, but hey, if you want to start a movie with a music-video-like sequence, alright. (side-note: this actually is very en par with what I’ve read about New Digital Cinema and the audiovisual turn, in that audio plays a more dominant role now than ever before.)
Still, that scene is the only one that will truly stay with me.
Fishing metaphors, Seligman as the audience – YES WE FUCKING GOT IT
YES WE FUCKING GOT IT is probably the thought that passed through my head most often during this film. Seligman takes the woman home, asks her to tell him what happened, and after a little bit of whining (because that’s her superpower, really), she agrees.
Joe relates her story, the tale of a Nymphomaniac who is set on casting herself in a bad light. Seligman, however, constantly questions her judgement, reflects on her statements and generally acts like a movie critic analysing a character for an essay.
After the fifth time, I was ready to shout at the screen: “The audience isn’t actually that stupid, Mr Trier! We understand that Seligman is a stand in for us and that you don’t want us to judge Joe. WE FUCKING GET IT!”
Seriously. Way to be condescending.
Also, there are a LOT of metaphors in this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE metaphors, I love subtext! But… it’s called SUBtext for a reason. In Nymphomanic, there was no subtext, there was just text.
For example: Joe relates the story of how she went on the prowl for men to fuck on a train and Seliman compares it to fishing. He doesn’t stop there – he explains everything I never wanted to know about fly fishing (which also features heavily in the now TV show “Hannibal”) and the audience even gets stills, diagrams, animated paths of swimming fish and what not.
Nice idea, maybe, but if used extensively, then it falls flat in my opinion. especially when they do the same thing again with Fibonacci numbers and the rule of thirds. Seriously, is this a movie or a power point presentation about the “hidden” meanings in the subtext of the movie?
You see, it still makes me really angry a week later.
But now a little about the plot. Jo is a nymphomaniac and tells her life story. Nymphomania is nothing more than an addiction and thus the sex scenes aren’t meant to arouse (not all of them, anyway). However, they were shot with body doubles as to appear real. So any genitalia you will see here is not that of the original actors, just so you know. It’s barely noticeable, though, so kudos to the special effects department!
Like I said, the sex isn’t meant to be erotic but instead adds to our understanding of Joe’s character.
During one sequence, when AGAIN Seligman lectures us, this time about Bach and Fibonacci and some organ music with three voices, Joe takes up the metaphor and applies it to her sex life. She had three main lovers (out of the ten daily sexual encounters) and all corresponded with the three voices found in the organ music referenced. While explaining how the men please her, they are compared with animals and with each other, also through split screen. Something you don’t really see often anymore (I wonder why^^) but it was a nice touch and called to mind Sergej Eistenstein’s montage of attraction, even in a rather abused form.
My very opinionated conclusion
You’d think that, with a story about a Nymphomaniac in our modern culture where sex is still a taboo, you can’t do anything wrong. Addicts make great characters because they are human, fallible and the epitome of struggle, so really, how can Lard von Trier take such a great premise and turn it into… that?
By trying too hard. By being condescending to the audience. By making the characters reflect on themselves. By having the protagonist constantly whine about how bad she is. By throwing subtlety out of the window. By setting the story in the 70s (80s? I think it was the 70s).
I mean, why not today??? Our over-sexualized culture would lend itself PERFECTLY to a story about Nymphomania that can be provocative as well as subversive and filled with social criticism.
I don’t get it.
The only problem is that, in the final moment of part I, Joe hit bottom and realised that she has a problem, making me actually want to see the sequel even if my rant just now is putting me off rather effectively.
Nymphomaniac Vol. I
D: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia Labeouf, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, a lot of very great body doubles