By Darin Skaggs
Lars Von Trier is one of the most pretentious filmmakers of all time. With that being said some of his work is absolutely brilliant. Breaking the Waves, Melancholia and Dancer in the Dark have gotten many a praise from critics. Others split the vote when it comes to if they are good or not. Antichrist is an extremely crazy film and Dogville is long and pompous. His new film can certainly be put into the pretentious category as well as an almost parody of Trier’s filmography as a whole. The film is Nymphomaniac, a four hour epic all about Joe, a sex addict.
In the beginning Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is found beaten, lying on the ground by Seilgman who takes her to his apartment. There Joe begins to tell her life story of being a nymphomaniac. She tells about her young self (Stacy Martin) discovering her sexuality and eventually getting to her delving deeper and deeper into darker sexual experiences that lead to her being beaten and left for dead in an alley.
The reason she is telling her entire story is intentionally clunky, it is only because Seilgman asked “What happen out there?” and she responds with “If you want to know that I have to start from the beginning.” And while she is telling her tale she is constantly interrupted by Seilgman who compares her experiences to fishing. He talks about reeling in fish is like Joe reeling in men in her early days. Throughout the film he compares her story to Greek Gods, fishing and literary figures. This is all pretty funny; the whole film is surprisingly funny. The subject matter is fairly dark and Trier does not shy away from that it is dark, but also does not take it too seriously. There are many instances in the script that seem unlikely and Trier makes Seilgman’s character take it to task.
It is good that Trier uses comedy to lighten up the darkness of the film or it would be unwatchable. The films whole theme is about loneliness, this being the third film in Trier’s unofficial loneliness trilogy. All of Joe’s forty something years alive she has relations with a ton of men just for the search of the cure to loneliness. At the point we met her she still hasn’t found it, she comes close only a few times, but the vast majority of her time she couldn’t be further from it. She begins innocent, what she is doing is not, but she still is. After the years go by she is with more and more men she becomes hollower even at one point becomes numb and unable to feel anything anymore both emotionally and physically. The second half of this film is very depressing. Joe goes on a mission to feel something again getting into darker activates that brings harm to her body.
Much like Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel Trier brings a ton of actors that have been in his previous films to this one like Charlotte Gainsbourg, William DeFoe and Stellan Stargard. Some new comers include Shia Labouf, Uma Thurman and Stacy Martin who all do very well. All of them are acting brilliantly and are all brave roles to take especially Gainsbourg and Martin. This feels like a retelling of a tragic life, not a chance to see an actor in the nude, which is a difficult thing to pull off. Trier does and makes one of his best films to date. He gives us a cynical look at the sexual experience and gives us an even more cynical ending. It is not an easy watch, being about a sex addict and four hours long but ultimately it is satisfying for the patient viewers.