Nymphomaniac: Volume 2

nymphomaniac-volume-2_posterNymphomaniac’s second volume is a whole different affair (read our vol.1 review here) as the film takes a darker turn. While for the first 30mn Joe’s saga seems to continue as a joyous escapade – more particularly a sequence reminiscent of When Harry Meets Sally and a scene featuring an amusing ménage à trois – the story quickly changes tones to become more serious and philosophical.  The director, Lars Von Trier, signals the change by including a direct reference to his sordid Antichrist, which was starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as well as Willem Dafoe also present here. For a brief moment, it seems that both stories are going to collide but the outcome ends up being less dramatic.

From there, Mr. Von Trier brings us to darker territories, Joe trying to fulfill her insatiable sexual needs with something stronger, violence. She first becomes a masochist before getting behind the whip (if you’re into this, you can explore a similar journey in the highly entertaining and surrealist R100) and working as an enforcer for the organized crime. While she insists on being described as a nymphomaniac, addict is clearly a better description, sex becoming the most important element in her life, even if it means sacrificing her role as a mother.  At this moment, Mr. Von Trier finally takes a position, implying that this compulsion should be embraced; he shows us that struggling to fight your impulses is pointless and absurd through a rather comical scene where Joe “neutralizes” everything in her apartment. The fact that he also introduces discussions about religion is no coincidence:  the only reason these extreme sexual behaviors are not accepted by our society is because they are seen as sinful. Rather these comportments should just be seen as differences, the same way homosexuality is now perceived – Joe also starts an affair with a girl, confirming this message.

When it comes to shock values, spectators should be warned that this volume is more graphic than its predecessor, more particularly during the S&M sequences. Another complaint I heard was that the conclusion was too extreme but I fully disagree. From the very beginning, you can anticipate what’s coming and the way Joe reacts is totally justified – she is dominant, always in control and this is the only way she can react, both her personality and desires being based on some kind of violence.

As to how this volume can be compared to the first entry and how can Nymphomaniac be assessed as a whole, I haven’t changed my mind. This second part is probably more painful to watch but every element is well in place, not as gratuitous as you might think. The acting is stronger here with cameos from Mr. Dafoe, Udo Kier and Jean-Marc Barr while – thankfully – Shia Labeouf and Chistian Slater have less screen time.  The same flaws that affected the first volume remain though, whether it’s some mixed performances or a lack of cohesion as Nymphomaniac tries to be everything from a social study to a philosophical work, a comedy, a drama and a porn flick. Another complaint I have is that Mr. Von Trier shows flesh in a mechanical way but fails at delivering any kind of sensuality, contrary to a film like Blue Is The Warmest Color, which was pushing the boundaries of onscreen realism while delivering some beautiful sequences. Watched as a whole, Nymphomaniac is certainly a strong work, better than its two parts as distinctive entities, but it proves to be too ambitious for its own good.

Director: Lars von Trier – Actors: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård – Running Time: 2:05 – Year: 2014 – Country: Denmark

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.