Not content with one sexually explicit movie, Danish director Lars von Trier has issued the provocatively titled Nymphomaniac in two volumes.
Volume 1 dealt with a nymphomaniacal woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who told her story to an older man (Stellan Skarsgard) who adopted an Olympian view of her sexual history.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Seen in flashbacks, the young Joe (played by Stacy Martin) learned to express her power through sex, a risky business to be sure.
Together both volumes total more than four hours, making Nymphomaniac a contender for the longest sex movie yet — if, indeed, it’s really about sex.
In Volume II, the adult Joe takes over the story, and von Trier more clearly marks his territory by pushing her toward punishing extremes.
What happens? Joe — who has lost all sexual sensation — submits to torment from a sadist (Jamie Bell) who ties her down and beats her up. In the process, Joe proves that she’s a careless mom and renounces those who would judge her at a meeting of sex addicts.
She also sleeps with two black men who face each other naked in what looks like a duel of semi-erect penises.
Toward the end, Joe hooks up with an extortionist (Willem DaFoe) and acquires a wily protege (Mia Goth).
All this is recounted in flashbacks as Joe finishes telling Skarsgard’s Seligman how she wound up bloodied in an alley, which is how he discovered her at the beginning of Volume I.
In Volume I, Von Trier punished some of the characters: He does so again, but this time, the torment extends to the audience.
The shock of explicitly presented sex having been depleted in the first volume, we’re left to watch Gainsbourg’s Joe demean herself, take a prideful stance toward her activities and ultimately commit one final act of self-assertion.
Whatever von Trier had to say seems to have been said in the first movie. Volume II doesn’t add much, except for those who want to speculate about von Trier’s aims with yet another movie that seems designed to provoke without explanation.
As for what motivates Joe: It may be nothing more than von Trier’s desire to put her through a variety of degrading situations and then try to defend himself by glossing it all with a feminist veneer.
As my grandmother might have said, “Oy.”