Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2
With Valentine’s Day now out of the way, Lars von Trier’s new offering Nymphomaniac negates all that the notion of romantic love projects. In fact, its main character Joe (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a staunch objector to love (which she sees as an intruder) and an ardent supporter of the erotic (which she does not just ask for, but demands). The ensuing erotic tale is set in no marked location, and this helps to convey the film’s alignment to fantasy. The setting does, however, have obvious Scandinavian overtones, taking place in a city that closely resembles Copenhagen. The story is poetically told through the protagonist Joe as she tells of her very sexual life to an old man named Seligman (played by Stellan Skarsgård), who has no prior sexual experiences and claims to be asexual.
The second volume of Nymphomaniac focuses on Joe in middle age. With her body struggling for arousal, Joe turns to sadomasochism for sexual gratification. The film illustrates poignantly the loneliness of such an addict, and a woman’s detachment from her own body, her own child and the society that she lives in. In this, Nymphomaniac is a very female story, nymphomania itself is a term solely ascribed to women. As Joe declares in defiance, she is a nymphomaniac – the politically correct medical term that her group therapist assigns – and not a sex addict. Although the term nymphomania was created by modern psychology, it of course has its roots in Greek mythology; nymphs are the nature deities that exist outside the control of men. Joe’s story is then one of defiance against the rules of society, and the burden of guilt that she must withstand as a result.
Seligman is part psychoanalyst and part replacement father figure, the attentive listener to Joe’s “long, moral story”. His room is littered with objects that help Joe to make mental associations with her past, tracing the chapters of her life. The divertingly loose reference points (Seligman relating his fishing knowledge, the nymph-fly to her sexual strategies in luring men) help to maintain a comic edge in the face of pervading intellectualism. This is what stops the film from becoming overly pretentious, and in fact makes it a humorous, and at the same time very serious, investigation into nymphomania and the topic of erotic desire, and that of being on the outside of a very bourgeois society.
In its intellectual endeavors Nymphomaniac challenges society and the way in which it impresses itself upon us. Sex in this film is graphic, real and clinical, if a bit over-stylised at times. The film successfully makes the viewer confront, however uncomfortably, the topic of sexuality, and more specifically sexual desire. But even greater is its overall challenge to morality, and what society places on either side of the boundary of right and wrong. The humorous pseudo-psychological probing goes down some serious avenues, and near the end of a whopping four hours of cinema, there is no straightforward closure.
Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2 will be screened back-to-back only on the 22nd February 2014. For further information visit here.
Watch the trailer for Nymphomaniac here: