Cinematic Releases: Nymphomaniac Volume 1

Nymphomaniac was released today. Here is our review of Volume 1.

Female sexuality is one of the most powerful forces in the world. So powerful is its influence, from a young age women are trained to keep it locked safely away and to suppress it. Entire religions are based upon subjugating it and controlling it. In Nymphomaniac, director Lars Von Trier attempts to explore what it means to be a sexual being and whether the emotion of love has any place in it at all.

The film revolves around a woman named Joe, self-professed nymphomaniac (played by Von Trier’s muse Charlotte Gainsbourg). She is found badly beaten in an alleyway by a kindly older gentleman who proceeds to take her back to his apartment on her request. She then regales him with tales of her growing up and the experiences she had living a promiscuous life. It’s divided into chapters, much like a book, and each part is a self-contained vignette. This sounds rather straightforward, but the old man periodically interjects with his interpretation of the events and other interesting extrapolations. I found these conversations between them to be fascinating, and the topics run the gamut from psychology to philosophy.

There are two main metaphors used as running themes throughout the film. The first one is fly-fishing, and as silly as it sounds, it is genius the way it fits into the narrative. Musical theory is the second one and that is what resonated with me the most.  Von Trier has the characters be rather heavy-handed with the explanations of these metaphors and some people might think he is over doing it—I personally liked that fact that he had a very specific idea to get across and wasn’t afraid to spell it out and ruminate on it. The way Joe and the man converse is organically realistic and it makes the movie flow seamlessly from one point to another.

Nymphomaniac gained some notoriety before its release from the amount and explicitness of the sex scenes it contained. True, there is a lot of sex depicted (some with actual penetration shown) but it is filmed in a clinical nature. It doesn’t really come off as sensual and illustrates just how detached from sex Joe really is. She isn’t an addict because she needs sex as much as she is an addict because she wants sex. Joe is a hedonist in the strictest sense of the word. I found it interesting that the movie doesn’t really paint her as a bad person but it does make you examine both her and your own moralities. It’s an unflinching and nihilistic viewpoint that can be unsettling to consider.

Von Trier chose a somewhat postmodern, porno art house look for his film and it toys with different styles. It works but at times can be jarring and off putting.  The acting is overly dramatic, almost as if the characters are acting in a play.  It can make things very intense for the viewer but occasionally can take you out of the movie as well.  The soundtrack is eclectic but unobtrusive with odd choices like Rammstein and Bach inserted at key points.  Overall, this movie is a strange and wonderful glimpse into the sexual mind of a troubled woman.  This is only the first part of the film and I am excited to see what is revealed in the second half.  It makes you feel things you might not want to confront, but in the end, isn’t that what really good films do?

Related Review: Nymphomaniac Volume II

-Michelle Kisner