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Director: Lars Von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsborough, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Mia Goth, Willem Defoe
Plot: When Joe (Gainsborough) loses the ability to have an orgasm, she dives into a dark quest to achieve sexual exhilaration, destroying her life in the process.

When we left off with Nymphomaniac, Von Trier hinted that Joe was devastated at the fact that she had found love, yet still could not be sexually fulfilled. However, as the next volume of this two part drama unfolds, we realise that Joe has lost the ability to have an orgasm altogether. This only worsens her sex addiction, as she plunges to new depths to carry on experiencing sexual contact. The deeper her addiction goes, the more she begins to realise that her ageing body cannot take her needs any longer. Caught in a downward spiral, Joe’s life gets torn apart, as she goes from weakened addict to the bitter person she insists that she has become.

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There is something a little more frantic, yet focused with the second half of Von Trier’s lengthy discussion on nymphomania. In the first half, the director had all the time in the world to drift from aspect to aspect of this addiction and he had fun, playing around with our preconceived ideas of sex and picking apart at social criticisms. Here, he realises that he has a story to get on with and needs to progress at a sharper pace. The cut-backs to Seligman’s timeline are shortened. While it is always interesting to see Seligman’s reactions to certain events, this improves the experience, because we get swept up in Joe’s story more, rather than being abruptly pulled out of it, to talk about the mathematics behind various flirting techniques. Not that discussions are abandoned altogether; in fact, there are some far more interesting conflicts bandied about. Seligman concludes this movie with a good argument about how Joe is not an evil person, but a strong female figure (strong role model might be a step too far). There is also a debate about the majority of the paedophilia community, which I imagine was a massive source of the controversy, surrounding this film’s release. Sometimes, the dissections are a little too heavy, especially at the start, when religion is brought into the mix, but overall, there is a more controlled, yet never any less poetic, atmosphere to proceedings.

Besides, while I appreciate the larger themes, as a movie-lover, my interests are firmly placed on the characters. Joe’s evolution is the focus of my viewing. The stakes are instantly raised, with Joe and Jerome settling down into married life and even conceiving a child. While Shia LaBeouf’s character was increasingly hard to relate to throughout the story, he shows a softer side in married life. Despite hating the thought of it, he allows Joe to have affairs to better satisfy her sexual needs, the first true sign that his love is deserving for the lead character. However, happiness is short-lived and Joe’s need for sexual contact takes her into the world of threesomes and sadism. She even becomes the less likeable character in the relationship, especially when she comes to a heart-breaking choice and, predictably, chooses sex. The second half of this volume sees her try to tackle her addiction, but eventually use her unique talents to turn to a life of crime. I was unsure how Joe could so easily condemn herself at the beginning of volume one, but her true malice comes into play in the final hour, as she inflicts her misery onto those around her, in more ways than one. While we have swapped Joe’s actress from the impressive Martin, to the less-so Gainsborough (Stacy Martin captured Joe better, in my eyes, while Gainsborough’s performance is more internal – good, in its own way, but you end up missing Martin’s presence), the character grows into an intriguing one, making her life story unpredictable, even if we do have the luxury of seeing where it ends (Seligman’s room).

Nymphomaniac

The most shocking and brilliant scene was Jamie Bell’s office. In her hunt for more extreme sex acts, she finds a master of pain-infliction, who women pay to torture them. Jaime Bell is terrific here, easily the best supporting actor from both volumes. He is a soft-spoken gentleman, kind in his own way, until his sexual dominance comes out, where he turns into a vicious animal. I think Von Trier’s message is more powerful here, as he has managed to entice a well-known actor (LaBeouf doesn’t work as well, after recent troubles with the media), to convey his story. The scene where he prepares to do ‘something’ to Joe is terrifying, the suspense killing the viewer. You are unable to look away, but know that whatever comes next is something you don’t want to see, especially considering how graphic Von Trier has been before. The direction is brilliant here and shows that Von Trier can perform a more mainstream directorial scene, when he sets his mind to it. Other scenes shine with this director’s prowess. My second favourite scene from this volume must be where Joe invites two black men into a hotel room and they spend five minutes bickering about the logistics of a three-way. It is a thin slice of humour that makes this bitter pill of a movie much easier to swallow.

The end chapter is good, although it does lose some of the sexual dissection. Von Trier sadly has to stop playing around with social conventions and finish telling the story. Not that the content is bad; in fact, it is a very satisfying end to this long story. During Volume 1, I was growing doubtful that the ending would justify the arduous build-up. However, it is more about the character than her addiction. There is a nice touch where Joe ends up passing along her affliction, carrying on his circle of depravity. I felt that this moment of the story was a little rushed, as Von Trier spent far too much time playing around in Volume One. If the first movie could have been as focused as the second, we could have had a more powerful conclusion. However, it is hardly a weak ending and I am left, considering diving into more of Von Trier’s work.

Final Verdict: More focused than Volume One, yet never any less interesting. We get through several debates, while Joe’s character is given a suitable amount of development and story.

Four Stars

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5 thoughts on “Nympho-Maniac Vol. 2: The Review

  1. Volume I definitely held a lot more promise than this one. Here, it just seems like von Trier is back into his playhouse where it doesn’t really matter what we like or want to see, he’s going to show it to us anyway. Good review.

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