"Nymphomaniac: Volume II"
Release Date: April 4, 2014
Running Time: 124 minutes
Whatever pleasure Joe derived from sex in Nymphomaniac: Volume I quickly turns to pain in Nymphomaniac: Volume II. Picking up where Volume I left off, Volume II finds Joe so unsatisfied with a life of domesticity that she engages in risky sexual activity that threatens to destroy the family she has built. Unlike Nymphomaniac: Volume I, which found Stacey Martin’s young Joe refusing to acknowledge the consequences of her actions, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s middle-aged version of the sex addict finds herself haunted by her every decision to the point that she is forced to confront her addiction. Part of Joe’s journey of discovery involves subjecting herself to sado-masochisticistic whippings at the hands of Jamie Bell’s K, which makes for unpleasant viewing. This, of course, is director Lars von Trier’s intention. He wants us to squirm at the sight of Joe being beaten as a direct result of her addictive behavior. For Joe, it’s all about meeting her sexual needs. For von Trier, it lays the groundwork for Joe to pay physically for her real and perceived sins in addition to the emotional and psychological toll she comes to suffer. There’s also a sense that von Trier’s testing us, to see how far we are willing to watch Joe’s sexual encounters. While Joe has always allowed her desires to control her, she was always in charge in the bedroom and elsewhere when it came to the men in Volume I. In Volume II, she surrenders control to her sexual partners with horrifying results. Not that Joe’s appointments with K explain why Stellan Skarsgård’s Seligman came to find her wounded in a dark alley at the beginning of Volume I. This has to do with Joe allowing her cold heart to thaw and consequently having the tables turned on her. There doesn’t appear to be any room for love in Joe’s life. Her relationship with Seligman also changes in Volume II. He begins to judge Joe, which seems to be slowly informed by the Satanic omens he infers from Joe’s anecdotes. In turn, Joe picks apart the analogies Seligman makes about her sexual experiences. Regardless, the trust between Joe and Seligman isn’t as strong as it was in Volume II. Of course, talking with Seligman allows Joe to work through her issues. Early in Volume II, she finds no use for a psychologist, but this is the role Seligman essentially plays in both volumes. Unfortunately, as Joe inches closer to the realization she’s a sex addict, von Trier falls into the trap of blaming others for the consequences of Joe’s actions. He can’t have it both ways. Time and time again we see—and are told that—Joe takes ownership of her sexuality. Suddenly, though, von Trier wants us to believe that the only reason we are intrigued by Joe’s story is because she is a woman, and women aren’t supposed to enjoy sexual freedom, and if they do, they open themselves to abuse at the hands of men. That was never evident in Volume I. In Volume II, Joe goes to K knowing full well what she wants from him. It’s only until she attempts to suppress her sexual needs, and enters into a loving relationship, that Joe loses control of her (sex) life. Volume II’s final scene suggests that men are the root cause of all the harm Joe has committed, and that she can only overcome her addiction by taking extreme measures against any man who wants her. The events that led to Joe finding herself in Seligman’s apartment partially contradict this. It’s sad that von Trier chooses to ends Nymphomaniac with such a misguided statement. Yes, we still live in a patriarchal society that sadly treats woman as sex objects, and that’s not to say some men in Nymphomaniac don’t take advantage of Joe’s addiction. But to transfer blame for Joe’s action to the men she encounters in Nymphomaniac only plays into this. It discounts the sexual freedom a woman can and should enjoy and trivializes the compulsive, damaging nature of addiction. Maybe this doesn’t matter to von Trier. Perhaps his goal was simply to titillate and shock withNymphomaniac. If so, von Trier does as much damage to Joe as the addiction that rules her life for much of Nymphomaniac.
Aired: April 3, 2014
Web site: http://www.magpictures.com/nymphomaniac/