Nymphomaniac Vol. II picks up right where Vol. I leaves off, as I had predicted. So that’s one thing that is a little irritating: 5 months between watching Vol. I and Vol. II. Now that’s partly my own fault, for letting so much time go by — but it’s also the fault of a highly constrained release. By the time I saw Vol. I in the theater, Vol. II was ending its run. The solution to this would be to get back to the idea of an intermission — something that used to be commonplace and indeed heralded for longer films. Any Lars von Trier film has such a targeted, niche market that the way to do it is show the entire thing at once, put in an intermission, and charge double the admission if necessary. Because these are in no way two distinct films, but two halves of the same film. There is no question about this, so release it that way. I know it’s not up to the distribution company as much as the theaters, but work something out so it’s shown properly.
Now that I have my rant out of the way, the movie:
Nymphomaniac — the complete set — gives the viewer a strongly compelling ride-along with the sex addict Joe. This is Lars von Trier’s most sexually explicit film yet, to the point that some have labeled it porn. It is not porn; it is an independent film with Hollywood mainstays such as Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Stellan Skarsgård and Willem Dafoe. And remember that Lars von Trier made the magnificent Breaking the Waves. There is not so much separation between these two films.
Much of Vol. II, which follows our antagonist Joe as she has aged a bit from Vol. I, is exceptionally engaging. It is set in a framework of tales recounted by Joe to a stranger she has met (Skarsgård), which often add a little levity and interesting sidelines such as a discussion about clipping nails first from the left or right hand. But I did have a couple problems.
First of all, at one point early in Vol. II we are told it is now “three years later.” This is the point of the transition from young Joe to older Joe, and a transition to the actresses who play older and younger Joe. But younger Joe is played by Stacy Martin, who was a very youthful-looking 21 at the time of filming, and older Joe is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who is a full 20 years older and looks it. Besides the blatant age difference, the two actresses look very little like one another. There was no reason this transition could not have been handled better. It is a jarring effect that distracts unnecessarily from the unfolding story.
Now there’s another problem with this older Joe – younger Joe dichotomy, and it’s that not only are there obvious physical differences which tell us these are two different characters, but behavioral ones as well. Maybe I’m just being an ageist, but younger Joe was more interesting to watch; more unpredictable. They just seemed like two different people, and it didn’t work.
Vol. II also had some little story problems that didn’t quite flow, and I very much disliked the cop-out ending. There were moments in this movie where one felt it reaching for and almost achieving greatness. A theme that tied both films together was that of finding your “soul tree” — and it was a beautiful thing. But there are other times — such as the ending — where it almost seems as if von Trier got tired and gave up.
So, though I stated I would not, I am going to pass judgement on each half separately. Vol. I: 8/10; Vol. II: 5/10. If I judge them as a complete set, 6/10 — but with all the normal caveats in place. Either way, make sure this is not your first Lars von Trier film. Watch Breaking the Waves before you see Antichrist, and Antichrist before you see Nymphomaniac Vol. I.