After a fascinating look at a wedding from hell morphing into the end of the world, how curious indeed to view director/writer Lars von Trier’s epic, two-volume study of life as a nymphomaniac.
Guaranteed to fill many seats or keep the purveyors of streaming films on demand busy due to its sexually heated title, Trier marvellously interweaves literary ideas and quotes, pounding rock foiled by intimate romantic cello and piano interludes—even a snippet of Mozart’s Requiem—and a key plot point paying homage to Ian Fleming’s alter ego, James Bond. Also lurking in the artistic weeds—notably a home invasion—are quiet references to Stanley Kubrick’s masterful (and also classical-rich) A Clockwork Orange (cross-reference below).
Riddled with outrageous coincidences which drive the chapter-formatted script, the film brilliantly goes far beyond the titillation of full-bore sexual encounters of virtually every kind (with, at last, full frontal images—prosthetic or not, which feature raring-to-go physical truth from both sexes—don’t miss the two erect black brothers arguing over who gets which orifice!) and manages to make numerous societal points, beautifully dressed up in arbor-laden metaphors (from the magnificent ash tree to an oak that would surely make Walt Whitman’s heart sing: Uttering joyous leaves all its life, without a friend, a lover near).
Both friends and lovers of the protagonist are missing in action; whether or not the life described ought to be categorized as joyous or a miserable failure is at the root of everything.
It is difficult to find adequate words to describe Charlotte Gainsbourg’s unabashed, gritty and magnificently “cold” performance as Joe. (Stacy Martin also touches many chords as the pubescent Joe who first utters her lifelong mantra “fill all of my holes” as an inept moped repairman takes her virginity: 3—front door— and 5—rear.)
Largely a, er, two-hander, as the film begins Joe is found beaten in an alley by Seligman, a kindly, virginal, bookish gentleman (masterfully portrayed by Stellan Skarsgård) who shelters the damaged goods then dutifully hears her confession dating back to a celestial orgasm through 100s of men—none of whom could completely satiate her voracious appetite.
It falls to Joe’s dad (a finely nuanced performance from Christian Slater whose delirium scene is as marvellous to witness as it is difficult to watch), to set the tone and stage for his troubled daughter’s struggle with a sexuality that won’t take yes for an answer. Would that all of us find our soul trees before exiting life’s gran design no matter now we turn or come out.
Over its four-hours-plus, uncut narrative (in two volumes), viewers will be astonished, made to feel uncomfortable (the S&M scenes literally pull no punches), at times want to wash, but—more than likely—never become fully aroused. Like the heroine herself, with so much sex to work through moment after moment, the senses are soon dulled rather than kindled.
More’s the pity that Trier couldn’t find an ending that satisfies; but, perhaps, that might just be his point. JWR