Nymphomaniac: Vol. I & II

Director: Lars von Trier
Year Released: 2013
Rating: 3.5

Hermetic Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers self-proclaimed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) beaten badly in the street - he takes her to his home to give her tea and allow her to rest in exchange for her telling him her "story," a four-hour saga (divided into two "volumes") of sexual frivolity, experimentation and tragedy. What could have, in less capable hands, been merely a exploitation film becomes, with Von Trier at the helm, a meditation on pleasures of the flesh versus pleasures of the mind: as Joe discusses, from youth on, her desire for physical pleasure, Seligman counters with an intellectual corollary - he devotes his virginal life to studying the arts and sciences while she lives out her debauchery, from her first orgasm, to developing her methods of seduction and recounts her tortured relationship with Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf). Volume I is brilliant filmmaking - alluring, mysterious and perverse (particularly with Young Joe, played by Stacy Martin, relishing her powers as a beautiful woman) - before moving into the suitably darker (and disturbing) Volume II, which shows how carnal pleasure takes its toll over time: Joe's vagina goes numb (and sometimes bloody), she loses her child, she tries sadomasochism (with a quite sinister Jamie Bell lashing her) and eventually develops emotional dependence on an awkward young lady with a deformed ear (Mia Goth). Concludes morbidly - though fittingly, considering what preceded it - as Seligman finally succumbs to his desire and attempts to fornicate with Joe and she reacts violently: she's lashing against the lifestyle she couldn't lead, he's trying to make up for a life of learning and not feeling. This a haunting, complicated diptych ... and clearly the work of a gifted filmmaker.