I’ll try and keep this short, unlike the movie, which if you watch the director’s cut as I did, comes out to about five and a half hours. Once you’ve sat through something like Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 (1971), which comes out to a little over twelve hours, this isn’t much. Also, despite what I’m going to say about it, it’s problems don’t come from it’s length. A lot of movies damage themselves by going past two hours, but not this one. The length really wasn’t an issue for me.
I’m also not going to pick out all the little stupid things like you see me do with Hallmark movies. Yes, Stellan Skarsgard says the Christian church split up in 1054 into Roman Catholic and Orthodox, but it actually fractured a long time before that break. Or the onscreen text, which you would expect in a Godard film. Especially when Skarsgard brings up Fibonacci numbers. That probably only ticked me off because I went through about nine years of college level computer science and really don’t want to hear about Fibonacci numbers ever again. Also, there’s a scene where she makes one attempt to have sex with black guys. It kind of reminded me of that “documentary” from the early 1970’s called Black Love. It’s there to mention that men are homophobic, but she is implicitly homophobic since sex with a woman is never brought up in this sex addict film. Von Trier also whips out the Two Kinds Of People In The World cliche, but it only makes sense if everyone is right handed. Well, let’s talk about the movie.
First, if you’re a fan of Lars Von Trier, then it’s a no brainer. This movie is for you. Don’t hesitate to watch it. If you are like me and love Breaking The Waves (1996), then this has similar material, but it’s not even remotely as moving. If you were offended by Dogville (2003) like I was, then don’t worry, this isn’t offensive stuff. It’s just boring.
The movie is about a girl named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who recounts her life as a self proclaimed nymphomaniac to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgad). The movie cuts back and forth between the actual story and then Seligman’s thoughts on it. Kind of like sitting in on a therapy session if it were being conducted by college students in a debate class. And that’s where this film’s biggest issue is for me. A lot of the analysis feels pedestrian or the kind of thing you would expect in a college paper written by a student who hopes the teacher will be impressed. And at times its almost like argument for arguments sake. Like when you’re in a class and a topic is tossed out for discussion. The topic may actually be rather simple, but people keep trying to throw things in to pad out the conversation to fill the class time. A lot of the dialogue feels like that sort of thing.
The story begins when she is a little girl and takes us up to the events that led Seligman to find her in the alley outside of his place at the beginning of the film. Her father is played by Christian Slater who I think does a good job. His British accent may be a problem for you, but it wasn’t for me. Neither was it a problem for me with Shia LaBeouf’s character who is a male presence in Joe’s life pretty much throughout the film. The accent was a problem for me with Uma Thurman’s character though.
There’s a point where Joe just starts referring to the men in her life by letters. She casually tosses them around. During one of these scenes, Uma Thurman shows up as the wife of one of the guys who’s there with Joe along with their kids in tow. The scene is supposed to start a little funny, then get really uncomfortable as it keeps going. Like when Thurman asks if she can show her kids the “whoring bed”. The problem for me was the accent. If they had just let her speak normally, then it would have worked, but it was a voice that at this point in her career is obviously not her’s and I can’t suspend disbelief. So the scene was just hilarious to me. Especially when she actually screams. That made me think of Julianne Moore in Map To The Stars (2014), which also had me laughing.
This film has been dismissed as porn or on the flip side, played up for showing so much. People especially like to mention that the sex is unsimulated. Well, it really doesn’t count in my book if that isn’t Shia LeBeouf’s penis, which it isn’t. They use CGI to graft porn actors genitalia onto some of the actors. So it’s not anything to brag about. Is it porn? Far from it. Anybody who tells you that has no idea what they are talking about. It probably comes closest to an exploitation movie at best in that department.
I said I wouldn’t pick out little flaws, but there’s a big one I have with the title and her consistently referring to herself as either a nymphomaniac or being addicted to sex. She’s not really addicted to sex. She’s addicted to sex like someone who only smokes Marlboro is addicted to cigarettes, but won’t smoke any other brand. She’s like that. She’ll take penetration by a penis, give a blow job, and poorly dabbles in S&M. That’s really it. She’s rather discriminating about what she’ll do. Another analogy is like when someone says they’re a cinephile, but that means to them that they love watching highly acclaimed foreign films. An addiction to something broad like movies or sex means you’re indiscriminate. However, I get why Von Trier sticks with the term nymphomaniac because the movie does have a reason to make sure the apparent love of sex and guilt about it is explicitly associated with a female character. The ending depends on it.
The only thing that was kind of noteworthy to me was how the way the movie is shot changes in the final part of the film. It’s divided into chapters and in the last one Von Trier either shot it to get film grain and over exposed lights or did it in post processing. I think it was probably a reference to a movement in film he was involved in back in the 1990’s called Dogme 95. You can watch something like Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration (1998) and it will look similar.
Honestly, it’s not a bad movie, but it’s really for people who like Von Trier stuff. If you like his stuff, see it. If you don’t, definitely skip it. If you’re totally new, then don’t start here. Begin with Breaking The Waves and Europa (1991) before wading into films like The Idiots (1998), Dancer In The Dark (2000), Dogville, and beyond.