In Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Joe, a woman lying beaten up in an alleyway, and Stellan Skarsgård is Seligman, the man who finds her, gives her shelter and takes care of her. Joe tells Seligman about her life as a nymphomaniac. He equates her sexual encounters to fly fishing with footage of fly fishing inserted in the film. My friend André St-Jacques called it an analogy (play on word intended). In flashbacks Stacy Martin plays young Joe from adolescence to her thirties. We get to witness Joe’s sexual awakening, her relationship with her parents and her start as a nymphomaniac. Her first lover is Jerôme played by Shia LaBeouf. Joe’s first sexual binge involves a contest with her best friend. The most promiscuous of the girls wins a bag of candy. Both girls are on a train having sex with one man after another. Joe forces oral sex on a passenger to win the bag. Having no experience as a secretary does not stop Joe from getting a job as a secretary. That’s because her boss is Jerome. She won’t have sex with him, but every morning she brings him his favorite pastries. The film is divided by chapters. The one titled ‘Mrs. H’ has Mr. H bringing his wife and children to Joe’s apartment. Mrs. H (Uma Thurman in a thankless turn) becomes more and more hysterical. When her father (Christian Slater) dies in a hospital Joe has an orgasm. All that is done in flashbacks with the conversation between Joe and Seligman sometimes heard as narration. It reminds me of the Marquis de Sade’s novel Justine ou Les infortunes de la vertu (Justine or The misfortunes of virtue). It also has the main character telling a benefactor about her life. The difference is Justine has suffered at the hands of sadists, been raped, sexually tortured and exploited. In Nymphomaniac Joe is seeking sexual partners. What is von Trier’s telling us here? Is he seeing himself in Joe? I don’t think he is. In Seligman? During their conversation Joe speaks of her sexual adventures whispering without passion in a monotonous voice. Seligman connects some of the things in her story to great books he has read and music he heard. When he talks it is with an assured voice, and with passion he speaks about fly fishing or some other theories. And at a certain point I saw a look in Gainsbourg’s eyes. It told me that Joe does not understand what Seligman is talking about. How could she? She’s only a nymphomaniac with only one aim in life: sex. Base instincts. Pretty narrow. And Seligman is such an intelligent man. Erudition incarnate. Such manly superiority. Joe’s father is a soft-spoken, nature loving almost angel-like figure. The women are: Joe’s best friend and teacher in slutty behavior, Joe’s bitchy mother and the hysterical Mrs. H. Lars von Trier’s reputation as a misogynist is well documented. When his 2009 film Antichrist opened at Cannes, the Ecumenical Jury gave it a special “anti-award” as “the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world.” Be advised that the film contains explicit graphic sex scenes. Technically well done with good videography. Unidimensional characters does not allow for great acting. Do I recommend? Nah!
You should know… To get the part Shia LaBeouf had to send photos of his penis. Says LaBeouf “I sent videotapes of me and my girlfriend having sex and that’s how I got the job.” During the sex scenes the actors’ sexual organs were digitally altered and replaced by those of models. Prosthetics were also used. This version of Volume 1 is 118 minutes. The ‘uncut’ version (unreleased?) clocks in at 145 minutes, but the complete five-hour Nymphomaniac was released on December 25, 2013 in Denmark. Merry christmas!
Nymphomaniac: Volume 2 review at https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/nymphomaniac-volume-2/
Nymphomaniac: Volume 1