NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME II
*** (out of 5)
April 4, 2014
Charlotte Gainsbourg as JOE
Stellan Skarsgård as SELIGMAN
Stacy Martin as YOUNG JOE
Shia LaBeouf as JEROME
Jamie Bell as K
Willem Dafoe as L
Mia Goth as P
Directed by: Lars von Trier
BY KEVIN CARR
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If you’ve already seen Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac: Volume I,” the second volume is required viewing. After all, if you have only seen the first half, you’ve only seen half of the movie. Even if you didn’t like the first film, realize that you’ve already sat through two hours of the movie, so you might as well finish it.
Conversely, if you haven’t seen the first volume, it’s not worth watching this one. That’s not to say “Nymphomaniac: Volume II” is a bad film. Instead, just watching the second part will leave you confused as it is like watching the end of a movie without the benefit of character development and set-up.
This second volume wraps up the life story of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a self-described nymphomaniac who was found beaten in an alleyway by a man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). In the latter half of her story, we focus more on her adult life rather than her sexual awakening as a teenager and young woman. We also see the greater consequences of a sexually-charged life, including pregnancy and reluctant motherhood.
The most jarring thing that happens in this film, which is unavoidable but oddly humorous from a viewer standpoint, is how the fresh-faced Stacy Martin turns into the middle-aged Charlotte Gainsbourg in just a few short years. This is a casting issue, which is understandable since von Trier chose the two actresses best suited for the roles rather than their similar appearances, and ultimately forgivable. It just makes it difficult for the mental leap for me.
The tone of “Volume II” is decidedly different than the first film. Where that was a story of discovery, this one is much darker. We’re coming off of Joe suddenly losing any sense of passion or arousal. The inevitable happens, and she gets pregnant, and her unexpected turn as a parent seems to be what the symbolic lack of sexual satisfaction represents.
Here’s where von Trier gets as literal as he dares, letting the child stand for the very general concept of settling down. However, like many do when faced with this situation, Joe goes into a midlife crises (hence the sudden transformation to her older self from the pretty young thing she once was). She’s not interested in being a parent, and she’s ultimately pushing away Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) as well.
To recapture the excitement of her youth, Joe tries everything possible – from double penetration with strangers to S&M play – in order to get the high again, and it ends up ruining her normal life. Left to wallow in a meager existence outside of the law, Joe is left betrayed by the people she cares for (i.e., has sex with).
In this final half of the overall story, we see Joe’s nymphomania representing her lost innocence. There’s hints throughout the film that she isn’t telling the whole truth, which leaves the viewer to question whether any of this is real or if its all fabricated. More over, is the hyposexual character of Seligman fabricated as well? Is it not conveniently ironic that she finds herself in the care of a man who seems to have an affliction opposite to her own.
The lingering questions in this last half of the film is more in line with von Trier’s not-always-literal filmmaking. This makes the overall “Nymphomaniac” story more interesting than an artsy version of a skin flick. While confusing when taken on its own merits, the second half works to resolve some of the questions behind character motivations, and that’s why it works as a companion piece.