Nymphomaniac: Part I
dir. by Lars von trier
The movie opens up on a set that comes close to resembling the chalked-out stage Nicole Kidman and co. performed on in Lars von Trier’s much more inspired Dogville. Watching the film’s titular “heroine” lie there, beaten and still, tucked away in the alley behind Seligman’s local shop, it’s tough to believe the authenticity of Charlotte Gainsbourgh’s battered face as anything more than a willy-nilly application of makeup and corn syrup. (Please forgive me, Costumes & Makeup, if I just got all of that wrong). Chronicling the many sexcapades of one nymphomaniac’s life, Von Trier’s latest movie gets to pride itself as a film made for the sole purpose of getting other film “enthusiasts” to smirk. It’s pure provocation. Nothing more—so, so unfortunately nothing more. It’s intriguing, it’s clever, it even gets outrageously hilarious—shockingly so—when a pair of prepubescent girls flood a bathroom and slide around belly-down in a game of Mermaids, only to discover an odd and ineffably possessive sensation wash over them. Von Trier keeps the camera close to the children’s faces, capturing in uneasy proximity their expression of inexplicable ecstasy. Von Trier refuses to look away—as he so often does. But to what end, Lars? You titillate us, you get us laughing and rolling our eyes along with Joe at her interviewer’s feeble attempts to relate to her and her peculiar affliction via intellectual digressions on fly fishing and classical music—but—and I repeat—to what end? Is this going to—once again—regress into the same ol’ rerun ofThe Torture Hour with Lars von Trier? Is this just a precursor to the punitive maelstrom to come? Because if there’s one thing I know about the director of the relentlessly sadistic Anti-Christ, it’s that all this free-wheeling, bacchanalian behavior is going to land Joe into a lot of trouble with the almighty himself—the divine, the godly, The Trier. For this is indeed the House of Trier! And you shan’t pass through its doors unless you’ve suffered as the Almighty has. The world isn’t right till it drowns in melancholia as Trier drowns. As he explicitly proved in his documentary with Jorgen Leth, The Five Obstructions, all Lars really wants to do is suck you down into the Heart of Darkness along with him. Lars is the type of soldier that—knowing full well that he’s about to die—takes a whole bunch of comrades down with him. After all: who wants to pass into the realm of death alone?
LISTEN UP! because I really do mean this: Nymphomaniac is a film snob’s film. This movie is ironic only to those in the know. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of arriving to the theater to discover the latest summer/megahit/franchise thing SOLD OUT, do not—under ANYcircumstance—“wing it” and see Nymphomaniac just because it’s the only other thing playing. I promise you, it will not be your cup of tea. Although—to be fair—it’s highly unlikely that any mainstream audience still runs the risk of unwittingly wandering into an errant screening of Nymphomaniac—especially since it’s been two months since its initial release. Critics often forget how mainstream audiences watch movies. I promise you, critics, this isn’t a quote-unquote funny film; you’re not laughing from the belly while watching Nymphomaniac. To the untrained eye, this is a horrendous exercise in the depraved—in all that’s wrong and perverted with the world. To the untrained eye, this is fuel for the fire. These are the type of movies that some people like to point at and say, “There it is! That’s what I mean when I say this world is warped and godless!”
Luckily for us—and Trier—very few people will venture to seeNymphomaniac anyway, which means more unimpeded von Trier for us lovers of all things esoteric and perverted. However, like a double-edged sword, an unimpeded von Trier comes along with its fair share of pros and cons. Pro: unimpeded von Trier means the occasional and necessary jolt to the system every true cinematic junkie craves. Con: unimpeded von Trier might lead to von Trier’s undoing. Anti-Christ and Melancholia were just as demoralizing and brutal with their frankness, and yet, there wasn’t as much wanton flippancy. There was still a certain air of reverence for the characters and their otherworldly plight. You don’t get the same here. Nymphomaniac barely registers as anything more than a brilliant, but troubled auteur talking to himself—almost quite literally, especially in the purposely stagey scenes between Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourgh) and Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard)—as he wrestles with his own idiosyncratic understanding of sex—as well as his ongoing discourse between the physical and metaphorical idea of the body.
Everyone who’s going to see Nymphomaniac already knew they were going to do so as soon as they caught wind of its initial conception. Part of the movie’s genius is that the marketing is in the title, choice of director, and subject matter. If you’re the type to follow this sort of stuff—a movie’s production and progress all the way through post—then it’s done: Nymphomaniac‘s already on your to-do list.
That’s the type of movie Nymphomaniac is: vapidly provocative, and incredibly pretentious, but still loads of fun. Like a quick and refreshing stab at the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle: Nymphomaniac is an intellectual elitist’s idea of past time. And, as a self-proclaimed pompously pretentious snob: yeah, I enjoyed it.
So sue me.