Release Date: 21-Mar-2014 (USA); also VOD
Length: 145 minutes
With: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, and Shia LaBeouf
There is something downright ridiculous about philosophizing about sex. Tear away all of the stigmas and the baggage, the joy and pleasure, the excitement and apprehension and what you are left with is just a physical act between two animals. To most creatures, sex means continued existence of the species. But mankind, with our far superior brains, has twisted something so simple into something so annoyingly complicated.
Lars Von Trier’s latest film, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1, is an outrageous and often hilarious examination of sexuality and promiscuity. It follows the story of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a self-proclaimed nymphomaniac who finds herself telling her sexual history to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), the man who found her unconscious in an alley and is trying to help her recuperate and understand just exactly how she ended up bloodied and knocked-out in the street in the first place. As with many stories, pinpointing the starting point is always a challenge. So Joe starts at the beginning.
As Joe unveils a new detail of her past, Seligman does not act with disgust or moral disapproval. Instead, he keeps an open mind and equates much of her story to something he finds near and dear to his heart: fly-fishing. This may all sound absurd and, at times, it really is. But Von Trier puts forth a highly interesting story that one needs to approach with the same open-mindedness that Seligman has for Joe.
There is such irony in naming of oversexed, female lead with a typical male given name. In most cultures, men who are promiscuous are heralded while females get marked with a slew of negative labels. Joe doesn’t care. To her sex is an addiction that has led to an absence of empathy. She barely blinks an eye when she accidentally destroys a marriage while trying to break off a relationship with one of her lovers.
Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is wonderfully crafted and visually appealing. Von Trier lets scenes linger and develop through engaging, though at times overly metaphorical, dialogue. There are some rough edits and the stylistic approach that Von Trier takes is certainly an acquired taste. Gainsbourg and Skarsgård have great chemistry together and there is a surprisingly heartbreaking performance by Christian Slater, who plays Joe’s father.
This movie got a lot of media attention due to its inclusion of explicit sex as well as the casting of Shia LaBeouf and his “I am no longer famous” tirades. Both items are quite subdued in the film. Other than a horrible accent, Shia does quite well in his role of Jerôme, the man who took Joe’s virginity and coincidentally keeps popping back into her life. And while the sex scenes are graphic at times and probably not for the casual moviegoer, it shouldn’t be considered pornography.
By the end of Vol. 1, there is an emotional investment in Joe to see how the rest of her story plays out and how Seligman will continue to play into it. It will also be interesting to see whether Von Trier can close the deal and continue on the momentum he expertly developed in the first half.