Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LeBeouf
Director: Lars von Trier
Please note that this film has been split into two parts for release but this review is for the movie in full. You can watch ‘Nymphomaniac: Volume 1’ on demand now and ‘Nymphomaniac Volume 2’ beginning on April 18.
Art is a hard thing to define. Sure, the first thing that comes to mind is paintings and sculptures, but music and film are also forms of art. The funny thing about art is that it is subjective. Some people will look at a painting by the masters like Picasso or Matisse and call it a masterpiece, while there will always be others who just see a messed up face or something that looks like a child painted it with their fingers. The same thing happens in film. Some will look at Nymphomaniac and call it an overly pornographic bore but I look at it and what I see is one of the greatest films I’ve experienced.
Nymphomaniac stars Charlotte Gainsbourg as Joe, a nymphomaniac, as she tells the sordid tale of her sexual life to Seligman, played by Stellan Skarsgard, who finds her injured in an alley. She begins her tale at the beginning of her life and relates each chapter of her journey to something in Seligman’s apartment. For example, the first chapter is about Joe and her friend “catching men” on a train, which was inspired by a fly fishing lure on Seligman’s wall. Each chapter of her story outlines a different stage in her life and eventually leads to how she ended up injured in the alley.
The first half of Nymphomaniac is full of youth, humor, and discovery. This is a departure from Lars von Trier’s last two movies in his “depression trilogy” (the other two being Antichrist and Melancholia). As Joe gets older, however, things take a turn for the worse and the second half of the film (which is the beginning of volume two) is full of violence and depression, even calling back to Antichrist in a scene. As a complete film, Nymphomaniac is one of the most complete and fulfilling stories told on screen, which is one of the reasons it is so long.
Without a doubt this is one of Lars von Trier’s best films. His direction is flawless. He uses realism in his techniques and it shines. Nothing here is faked. When you see sex or violence there was actually sex or violence on the set. This rawness brings a life to Nymphomaniac that is unmatched in Hollywood these days. It is this type of genuineness that made Kubrick stand out from others and Lars von Trier certainly seems to be head and shoulders above the rest in regard to his film work.
The other major component contributing to the success of Nymphomaniac is the actors involved. Every single cast member is incredibly convincing (yes, even Shia LeBeouf). Each character has a very distinct personality that helps define their role in Joe’s life and without each cast member at the top of their game the film would have started to fall apart. The actors worked segmented into each chapter, but like a puzzle, each piece fits together to create the bigger picture that is the main character. Not only does Charlotte Gainsbourg deserve a nomination for an Oscar this year, she deserves to win best actress.
If you have never seen one of Lars von Trier’s films before this probably is not a good place to start. If you have seen one of his films and did not enjoy it you probably will not like this one either. If you are looking for a film that will make you rethink your stance on whether or not film can be considered legitimate art then go no further — Nymphomaniac is a masterpiece. Much like classic art, there will be people that just do not “get” this film, but for those that do you will have found a new film you will absolutely want to have in your collection.
Review written by: Justin Proper