Directed by Lars von Trier
Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellen Skarsgard, Stacy Martin
Found beaten in an alleyway, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recalls her life to her would be saviour, Seligman (Stellen Skarsgard). As a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac she unapologetically relates her life in terms of her sexual experiences and how such has ultimately lead her to this point. Seligman, a gentle and bookish sort, listens patiently, interjecting with various diatribes on academic points of interest. What follows is a tale of Joe’s sensationalist life, how she gains sexual fulfilment, only to lose such sensation and be forced to seek it in the darker parts of the human psyche.
Lars von Trier brings us a rich and rambling epic of sexual discovery full of his usual stylistic flourishes. Meticulously constructed, it is a film that moves beyond the salacious topic to bring us a meditative piece. Crammed full of interesting side trips into esoteric realms, it is able to relate a diverse range of human activity to the aspect of sexuality. From fishing to religion, Bond to Roman empresses, all get woven into the narrative, providing a different perspective to the aspect of sensuality. It also infuses a much needed sense of humour into the situation. Where else would you see an explanation of the Fibonacci sequence and Bach purely for a dick joke?
Yet it is also a film that is unrelentingly sexual. With pornographic actors hired as body doubles for the sex scenes, many of those sequences are shockingly confrontational but necessary given the subject matter. This is not just titillation and some of these sequences are unsettling and difficult to watch. Part 1 is lighter in tone demonstrating Joe’s growth as a sexual being, while Part 2 covers Joe’s attempts to regain lost feelings and moves much further down the rabbit hole.
With such a wide stretch of time to cover, various actresses play Joe at different stages of her life. Charlotte Gainsbourg (Melancholia) brings a convincing dose of world-weariness to her portrayal, as well as a keen intelligence gained experientially. Her older Joe might harbour some regrets but is not seeking atonement or redemption; rather she is open to the idea of change as she narrates her tale. Stacy Martin makes a stunning debut as the younger Joe, with a tonne of sexuality and confidence, but never vamping. Skarsgard (Thor) provides a willing father confessor to Gainsbourg’s narrator, despite the claims of only an intellectual curiosity about religion. His scholarly ramblings bring much of the humour to the film, but also allow the audience some distance to contemplate the subject matter rather than entirely being caught in the carnal nature of it all.
Controversial and thought provoking, Nymphomaniac might not be a masterpiece, but it is a work worthy of viewing, analysing and discussing. An experience for the senses and the mind.