“Nymphomaniac: Volume II”
If you have read my recent review of Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 (yes, the first in this two part series, believe it or not), then you will know that I loved the first installment. The first part in this double feature is emotionally engaging as well as downright fascinating. With a movie to the graphic extent as these two, it did a fine job of keeping it to a low roar as well; never using its dour depictions as a source of shock value or an attempt at being overly conspicuous. Lars von Trier knows what he is doing when it comes to films such as this, and even in this second volume he shows his true mastery of the art of, well, art-house filmmaking.
Now that I have finally seen both of these interesting films, I now have a good idea as to why Lars von Trier separated the two. I’ve heard from a wide range of people that it was due to length, and while that could easily be the case, I believe Trier had a deeper idea as to why there are two volumes. In this second film, Seligman (played by Stellan Skarsgård) talks about two branches of the Catholic Church: Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic, if I recall correctly, is the branch that hold the death of Christ higher than the Eastern Orthodox. Seligman talks about the two as polar opposites; one brighter and celebrating life (Eastern Orthodox), and one darker and celebrating death (Roman Catholic), not unlike his theory about people who cut their fingernails on the left or right hand that is talked about in the first film. Based on this idea, I believe that this is part of the reason Trier split these two up; one film to show either side of the Catholic Church. The first film may be more lighthearted, but I feel it represented the Roman Catholic with its depiction of self-hatred and regret, while the second film, despite it being a bit darker, represented the Eastern Orthodox with its depiction of self-regard and acceptance. I guess it could still possibly be due to these two film’s running lengths, but I like to think there’s some method to the madness.
We last left Joe, the self-hating nymphomaniac played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, during her first realization to the fact that she can no longer feel any kind of sexual stimulation. To begin this installment, we are shown a flashback to her childhood where we see Joe experience a hallucination of two women who represent the Whore of Babylon and Messalina, two historical figures who share a similar history of promiscuity, you could call them nymphomaniacs. While this is happening, Joe is also experiencing an abnormally long and violent climax, which is probably what she believes as being her eternal damnation and what leads to her addiction.
In this volume, there are no more fly fishing or algebraic expression references that Seligman makes throughout Joe’s story. In this volume, Seligman is much quieter, only protruding when he knows something that she does not, such as the interesting fact s to who those two women Joe saw were. It’s sad because he was the only way we were able to connect with Joe’s story and make sense of all of her emotions and actually relate. The emotional touch that made the first installment work so well has been somewhat taken out and the film is harmed by this.
One improvement that I did find though was that the conversations between Joe and Seligman were much more engrossing than the last film, and there were a lot more of them as well. In the first film, the only contact these two really made were Joe telling her story and Seligman offering up some connections to his own life without much discussion concerning them. In this they talk about the branches of the Catholic Church and we find out exactly why Seligman must make these silly connections. Seligman must refer to his outside life due to the fact that he has no viewpoint within the themes of Joe’s story. In simpler terms, he is a virgin, but not by accident, he’s a virgin by choice. Seligman is A-sexual, meaning he is not attracted to either sex, and sex only interests him through curiosity, not lust.
This movie does manage to lose the first film’s dark humor a bit as well. This installment is much darker, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This time around, the characters divulge much deeper into the origins of sexuality. There is a very interesting, and quite brutal, scene where Joe practically ruins a man’s life by bringing about his extremely deep-seated sexual urges within a “forbidden” sexuality, as she calls it. The man is a pedophile, and instead of glaring at the man in disgust, she rewards him with, well, oral sex. Joe does this due to her belief that sexuality is the strongest force in human beings, which is something I definitely agree with. She says that to be born with such a forbidden sexuality must be utterly agonizing, especially when you have the self-control to keep it in control. It will take more time before I make a decision as to whether or not I agree with her statement, but she makes a good point in a strange sort of way.
Now it’s time to talk about the ending. Over the past week since I saw this movie, I have heard many opinions on the finale. Some are positive, but the majority of the people I’ve listened to have had more of a negative take on this final scene. I, for one, very much enjoyed this ending and thought it depicted a very strong message. I’m going to go ahead and warn any readers who haven’t seen this yet right now: Spoiler Alert! Alright, got that out of the way, now let’s divulge.
By the end of the film, Joe has finally found the very first real friend she has ever had in Seligman. To her, he’s one person who she can talk to and hang out with for strictly non-sexual reasons due to his A-sexual persuasion. Well, I did mention that he has always been curious about the act of sex, didn’t I? Once Joe is asleep, he sneaks back into the room and attempts to have sex with the unsuspecting Joe, but when Joe wakes up, astonished, she grabs her gun and shoots him. The screen then cuts to black where we only hear Joe rushing out of Seligman’s apartment. This scene is already powerful enough, but what really hit me as astounding was what Seligman said just before he was killed: “But you’ve f**ked thousands of men.” This statement got to me because, yes, she had been in sexual relations with lots of men, but she had just had an epiphany about her addiction and it was mostly thanks to Seligman’s friendship, which he just attempted to destroy. It also shows just how messed up Joe is and that humanity does not change. Even after all the stories the two of them shared, Seligman still only had one expectation: sex and he was determined to get it.
Nymphomaniac: Volume 2 is, in my opinion, the weaker one of the two, but not by much. They each had their own unique perks (interesting conversations and William Dafoe, of course), but I just feel that the lack of emotional engagement in this one really downgraded the material. Either way, this second installment into this two part series was still just as thought-provoking, if not more so, graphic, fascinating, surreal, and a bit darker. Trier still did a fine job of keeping it inconspicuous and you have to give him credit for telling such an immensely engaging story with such fearless execution. They’re definitely films that you will need to think harder about.