Release Date: 4-Apr-2014 (USA); also VOD
Length: 145 minutes
With: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, and Shia LaBeouf
The problem with Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 isn’t that it tries too hard to be as good as Vol. 1. It doesn’t try hard enough.
The film looks and sounds beautiful, with those Von Trier touches that people will either love or hate. It also has some great acting performances – again by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgård and also by Jamie Bell as K, Joe’s BDSM master, and Mia Goth as P, Joe’s female love interest and protégé.
Von Trier establishes some great concepts in Vol. 2, with the most important one being that Seligman is a virgin and essentially a Yin to Joe’s hypersexual Yang. The addition of a family life with husband Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf) and son Marcel (Jacob Levin-Christensen) enhances the complexity of Joe’s character and adds a remarkable hurdle to Joe’s quest for sexual fulfillment.
But the film’s faults are too many.
The story loses momentum and the plot goes all over the place. Willem Dafoe’s character L is introduced with great pageantry, only to be left with no further development until he fizzles out and is forgotten about entirely. The whole storyline involving his character was added just to introduce P into the mix, but other, more plausible, situations could have been introduced to lead the main characters down a path needed to resolve the story. The relationship between Joe and P is a fascinating one. It helps get the movie back on track and gives an answer to how Joe ended up in the alley that Seligman found her in from Vol. 1. The ending of the movie, however, falls completely flat. As the credits roll to Charlotte Gainsbourg’s cover version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” any satisfaction generated from the film is essentially ruined.
Von Trier got too greedy here. He could have created a very good three-hour movie instead of an inconsistent four-hour film. Even cutting off the last few minutes of Vol. 2 could have resulted in a satisfying conclusion that didn’t mar the overall story. But Von Trier isn’t known for his restraint. You can tell that he had this ending in mind from the very beginning and even though the narrative allowed for a much richer and fulfilling finish, he marched forward stubbornly.
Nymphomaniac is the conclusion of Von Trier’s “Depression Trilogy,” having been preceded by Antichrist and Melancholia. But instead of going out with a bang, the trilogy just falls limp.