Nymphomania Vol. II Review
Back in March, I wrote a review of the first volume of Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac." Yes; the movie is exactly how it sounds. There is nothing cookie-cutter about the work of Lars von Trier. He is never shy about the story he is going to tell, yet at the same time, you are shocked by how human soulful his stories are. If you read my original review, you will read how staggered I was by what von Trier pulled off. Von Trier created something that took themes like religion and extreme sexuality and was successful in the way he threw those themes into a blender. How these two complete opposite themes come to mature life in “Nymphomaniac Volume I” is amazing to behold. I could not believe how a film which took a stern, serious stance with it sexual story could be so funny and how the themes paralleled with ease.
It is true that I feel Lars von Trier made one of the best movies of the year with “Nymphomaniac Volume I,” and I wish I could speak of the second volume with equal enthusiasm.
The first half of “Nymphomaniac” saw Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) comes into contact with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a self-professed sex addict. Joe retraces through her life (told mostly through flashbacks where Joe is played by Stacy Martin.), trying to figure out if her addiction to sex has transformed her into a terrible being. Many of her stories are tied together by Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), a man who helped shape Joe’s sexual nature and by the end of the first volume, Jerome and Joe have moved in with each other and are hitting the hobby horse frequently, so frequent that Joe can no longer orgasm. The second half of “Nymphomaniac” sees Joe attempt to come to grips with who she is and instead of leading the story toward a beacon of light, it leads Joe down even darker paths.
In this second half, there are once again great performances. Gainsbourg, Skarsgard and LaBeouf have created emotionally prosperous characters and they make this massive sex style worthwhile. Add in the ample talents of Jamie Bell (playing a rather creepy sadist) and Willem Dafoe (playing a rather callous criminal) and you’ve got a film abundant in great performances. The real actor to watch for this time is Mia Goth. She has a small but crucial role in Joe’s life who affects her more than either could have fathomed. There are some big scenes between Gainsbourg and Goth that had to be strong for them to stick and I was flattened by how seriously Gainsbourg and Goth took these scenes. As I stated in my first review, you can’t take themes like these and make a half-measured movie. It seems von Trier always understood that and his characters and his actors understood that too. Once again, the way von Trier writes his script immensely strong and he pays off his mature themes with nearly every scene.
The thing is, all of that is just gravy on the mashed potatoes. The piece of the film that really makes a film work is its story. Once again, for the second time, von Trier has crafted a fine story. At the moment I thought the film was about to end, I sat back astonished. I was glistening in the moonlight, amazed by what von Trier had pulled off. I was excited to hop on my blog and rave that von Trier had once again made another mesmerizing movie that dealt with unconventional themes and came out well on the other end.
Then the film ended and I suddenly couldn’t believe what I saw. I actually rewound the movie just to make sure I saw what I saw. I would not dare give away the ending but after seeing the first half back in March and finally seeing the concluding half, I couldn’t believe that was the ending. It betrays everything that came before it, it betrayed every theme von Trier worked for and it offended each character he worked so hard to produce. It is as if von Trier played with some severely serious themes then decided to make a cute joke right before the credits rolled and the sudden transversal was unbelievable.
I know I just wrote lots of positive things about this latter half, but sometimes an ending can ruin an entire movie. I remember when I showed “No Country For Old Men” to a group of friends for my birthday in high school. When the ending finally surfaced, I was thrilled by the wildly different reactions to the ending and some talked about how the unconventional ending killed the experience for them. I don’t need a conventional ending and I don’t need a happy ending. What I do need is an ending that fits the context of the rest of the film and the ending to “Nymphomaniac” definitely did not do that. The ending was so off-base, so pedestrian and so unrelated to the rest of the film and it nearly ruined the rest of the experience for me.
Had von Trier shaved off the last 90 seconds of this last half, then I would be full of love tonight. But now, all I can think about is how strong the first half of this saga was and how flat this last half was. For a director that has given us so many treats over the years, this ending to this ambitious tale is quite sad.
FINAL GRADE: C-