Published Mar 20, 2014There is a disclaimer at the very onset of Nymphomaniac, Lars von Trier's controversial four-hour epic about one woman's sexual affliction, that states quite cheekily that von Trier approved this cut of the film, which was originally over five hours long, but was not involved in its construction. This makes it very difficult discern authorship of the film, and raises the question of how true it represents von Trier's original vision for the film. Regardless, there is plenty to say about it, largely because von Trier practically begs you to judge his heroine from start to finish.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, a von Trier staple at this point, plays Joe. She is found, having been beaten to the brink of death, in the street by a passerby named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). He invites her back to his place for some tea and some rest. Once there, she proceeds to share her entire life story, framed by the context of her consuming sexuality. Her story, she says, is a story of morality, and that she considers herself to be a horrible human being. We as an audience are placed in Seligman's shoes and are asked to listen and make up our own minds about Joe and her supposedly bizarre behaviour. As she prattles on about when she first discovered her vagina at age six, when she first had sex (with a disappointing lover played by the "no longer famous" Shia LaBoeuf) and eventually how she came to the worst times of her life, when she lost her orgasm, von Trier challenges us to decide whether we, too, think of her as evil. This, in turn, is supposed to make us question our own mores on sex.
Von Trier, while controlled and deliberate as a filmmaker, uncharacteristically lacks confidence here. He is constantly drawing our attention to the metaphors in the film and inconsistencies in the story, as if by acknowledging them himself, we cannot then criticize him for them. By the time Nymphomaniac reaches its conclusion, it has become predictable and borderline tedious, which when it comes to sex, are essentially the last things you want to be feeling.