Monday, April 14, 2014


NYMPHOMANIAC VOL II is the second and final part of director Lars von Trier’s look at human sexuality. Centered around the life-story of a woman named Joe and her addiction to sexual contact, VOL II picks up right where VOL I left off, which makes the film a less of a sequel and more of a continuation of a large story.
Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is found laying the street by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), who takes her in under his care. Joe recounts her life-story which includes her sexual discoveries as a young lady (played by Stacy Martin), and her darker turns as she grows into adulthood…which include her first lover (Shia LaBeouf), a loan shark (Willem Dafoe), and a sadistic sadomasochistic sex partner (Jamie Bell).

NYMPHOMANIAC VOL II is much of the same style and structure as the first film. Set within the framework of Joe telling her life-story, this volume moves away from her youthful sexual-discovery days into her darker experiences. Where VOL I was all about discovery, VOL II is about Joe’s struggle to maintain her addiction. As she loses the ability to orgasm, she turns to more dangerous and painful methods to satisfy herself, making VOL II twice as uncomfortable to watch. Things take on more interesting twists and turns as she begins a career as a loan-shark’s collector and as a mentor for a sexually charged teen, all of which offer opportunities to explore Joe’s complex character.
And it is the method of exploring Joe’s character which makes VOL II work so well, just as it did in VOL I. Joe is a broken, sex-addicted woman telling her life-story to an optimistic, older man who has very little sexual experience…and seeing the two characters trade perspectives is what makes the film work, and work very well. VOL II and the overall picture is more of a character-study than a film about sex.

Lars von Trier swings for the fences in his sexual opus and makes contact most of the time. The film is beautiful to view as the look of the film goes for an over-lit, overexposed palette which shows everything in all of its beauty and ugliness; everything from the surroundings to the sex. With things growing darker this time around VOL II has a lot less of the zip that the first time had, and towards the third act of the film many things feel repetitive. It often feels like von Trier is stretching things for time, and a lot of the clever ideas that made the first film work so well are absent.
Acting is superb. Charlotte Gainsbourg shows her fearlessness and is complimented very well by Stellan Skarsgard’s thoughtful and delicate acting. Stacy Martin is used less this time around but is still effective, as is Shia LaBeouf although he still makes a good impression. Willem Dafoe’s involvement is more of an extended cameo, but is still fun to watch. Jamie Bell deserves the award for Creep of the Year in a stunning turn as a punishing sex partner.

The ending goes for the jugular in a shocking climax which no one will ever see coming; so shocking it’s hard to believe that von Trier would end the film that way. However after some careful thought, it does make sense for the overall story and the characters. VOL II is impossible to watch without seeing the first part, but those brave and hearty enough to get through them both will certainly be rewarded by a thought-provoking film with big ideas and bold explorations. NYMPHOMANIAC is worth spending time with.

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