Movie Rated: Von Trier revisits the Golden Age of Arty Porn with “Nymphomaniac”

ImageLars Von Trier, the cinemas greatest provocateur, dips his toe in porn with “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1.” Dull, carnal, and explicitly so in both regards, it’s a slow-moving slog through one crushed soul as she relates the empty, passionless pursuits of her youth.
We meet Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourgh) as the kindly Steligman (Stellan Skarsgard) does, battered and bloodied in an alley. As he takes her in, she confesses, “I’m just a bad human being.”
“I’ve never met” one, he says.
“You have now.”
She proceeds to relate her sexual history, from childhood games of discovery and gym class rope-climbing “sensations” to the perfunctory way she proposes to lose her virginity, to a motor-scooter buff played by Shia LaBeouf. There are carnal contests with a pal on trains, where they see how many men, young and old, they can seduce and service in the restrooms, to tedious monologues about the logistics on managing 8-10 sex sessions a day while supposedly supporting herself with a real job and juggling the occasional real boyfriend.
Steligman, an avid fly fisherman and Bach enthusiast, interrupts her from time to time, comparing her gamesmanship to fly fishing tactics, “reading the river” as she hunts her prey, and her amorality to that moment in music called “The Devil’s Interval.”
Joe confesses that she “used and hurt others for my own satisfaction,” but Steligman refuses to judge. He just likes hearing dirty stories from a beautiful (but battered) woman.
“If you have wings, why not fly?”
The story is broken into chapters, a curse of Von Trier’s dullest films — “Chapter Four: Delirium” and the like. The  framework plays like the “Let me tell you a dirty story” of the earliest bawdy novels, like “Tom Jones” or “Tristran Shandy,” but rendered humorless and bland thanks to Gainsbourgh’s flat delivery and the poker-faced performance of Stacy Martin as the young Joe. The entire enterprise has a whiff of homage to the Golden Age of Arty Porn, the ’70s, when pretentious life narrations interrupted the assorted exotic sexual encounters of “Emmanuelle” or “The Story of O.” It’s “The Story of Joe.”
When the older Joe asks, plaintively, “Am I boring you?”, we smile in agreement, even as Seligman and Von Trier (a long way from “Breaking the Waves”) are urging her on and on.
The one explosion in the film is its best scene, a shattered, embittered wife (Uma Thurman, brilliant) shows up at Joe’s apartment where she has finally talked a lover into leaving that wife. In half a dozen searing moments, she weeps her way into rage as she tells her smll to remember this confrontation with the father whose lives he (and Joe) have destroyed.
“It’ll stand you in good stead when you’re in therapy.”

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But even that line reads as if it should be read, not performed aloud.
The sex scenes, and LaBeouf’s character turns up several times over the course of Joe’s narrative, leave little doubt at their authenticity. But the object lesson in this, fornication without feeling is lust without love, merits a “Well, duh” in every world but Von Trier’s.
I’d call “Nymphomaniac” his first horror film, the scariest part being the “Volume 1″ in the title.
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MPAA Rating:Unrated, with explicit sex scenes, profanity
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourgh, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf
Credits: Written and directed by Lars Von Trier. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:57

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6 Responses to Movie Rated: Von Trier revisits the Golden Age of Arty Porn with “Nymphomaniac”

  1. Jo says:

    Wow, did this guy completely miss the mark or what?

  2. Carl Velas says:

    At last someone with the guts to tell it as it is. No one wants to admit that the entire film is a monumental look at failure in cinema, not sex. Reviewers and viewers are giving this film a pass because they don’t want to appear “backward” sexually. It’s the same story repeated over and over again: make a film about cancer and it automatically gets elevated; make a film showing unsimulated sex.and it also gets your automatic elevation.

  3. LH says:

    Your writing is as bad as your opinion, which no doubt comes from the sexually neurotic mind of a conservative true to form, pure breed American. Sex in film is nothing new, the only thing that offends your frail sensibilities is the glimpse of a porn actors junk, I should imagine.
    As for your writing, it’s everywhere, a flood of quotes without context, a lazy analysis of each portrayed emotion by the young Joe. Just a poor review.

    • It’s a lazy, dull, poorly-framed bore by a filmmaker who could stand some editing and a better command of English his own self. The droning of Charlotte Gainsbourgh is sleep inducing, at least Stacy Martin was as tonally flat as her in playing a younger version of her character. But glad you got great insights on “”sex without love,” or your jollies off seeing full penetration. Quite the revelation for some. Apparently. Von Trier has lost his way, and since no one can tell him anything, “Dogville/Melancholia” and “The Story of Joe” is what we’ll get. And “pure bred American” is what I think you were trying to say.

      • LH says:

        Well aside from pointing out a typo, you did nothing more than make an assumption about my reason for liking the movie. Let’s get this out of the way first; I did not find the movie arousing, I find it hard to beleive many people did. Was that the point? No. I think this movie provided an insight into the otherwise romanticised idea of a young nymphomaniac. We can agree it wasn’t Von Triers best work, but it wasn’t “Arty porn”, maybe the tiptoeing around anything sexual in the big US of A has left you with a bit of a prejudice. Perhaps even religiously motivated? I have known a nymphomaniac and this movie echoed a lot of what that entails, most of it very uncomfortable, but that’s the point.

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