Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: Explicit material & content that may disturb.
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Joe (ages 35–50)
Stacy Martin as young Joe (ages 15–31)
Stellan Skarsgård as Seligman
Shia LaBeouf as Jerôme Morris
Christian Slater as Joe’s father
Uma Thurman as Mrs. H
Sophie Kennedy Clark as B
Connie Nielsen as Katherine (Joe’s mother)
Udo Kier as The Waiter
Director: Lars von Trier
A man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds a fainted wounded woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in an alley and he brings her home. She tells him that her name is Joe and that she is nymphomaniac. Joe tells her life and sexual experiences with hundreds of men since she was a young teenager while Seligman tells about his hobbies, such as fly fishing, reading about Fibonacci numbers or listening to organ music.
I’ve heard a lot about Lars von Trier, he’s one of the most controversial directors working today. Yet I hadn’t gotten around to watching any of his movies until now. I didn’t really know where the best place to start with him would be (given that his movies are disturbing, depressing, or both), so I just watched the movie I could easily access, Nymphomaniac. I had heard all about Nymphomaniac for a while, with some very polarised reactions to it, some loved it, others not so much.
Having watched the first half of it, while I’m not one of the people who loved it, I actually did like it quite a bit and there’s a lot of great things to it.
I want to preface this review by saying that I saw the movie on Netflix and at the beginning it said that the film I was going to watch is an abridged and ‘censored’ version. So it’s possible that the version I saw won’t be the version that you might see. Nymphomaniac Volume 1 is a slow moving arthouse movie that happens to be about sex. This movie is really conversations between Charlotte Gainsbourg telling her story to Stellan Skarsgard and we see flashbacks of that happening. It’s mainly broken up into 5 chapters (at least for the first half of the story). These conversations are really interesting, especially as Gainsbourg and Skarsgard are very different people and have different perspectives on what happened, definitely one of the highlights of the film. It was interesting to listen to their conversations. Quite often there are a lot of comparisons from objects to things that happened in Joe’s life, an example being a comparison between fly fishing and sex. I get that a lot of people found some bits of the discussions and the comparisons pretentious (and it is), and to be fair they go a little too ridiculous with it sometimes. With that said, I think a lot of these bits are intentionally ridiculous and add quite a bit of humour. Actually there are surprisingly quite a lot of effective comedic moments in the movie, which does lighten up things a bit. It really needed them, because it is a really uncomfortable and bleak movie, even when watching it by yourself (I would know). It does feel a tad repetitive in some of the things that happen but it’s not like the same things happening every time, with every chapter we learn something new about Joe. I will say that I didn’t really feel any emotion throughout this movie. It is a rather cold movie, and on the whole the most emotion I felt was uncomfortableness at certain moments. Now I was still interested in the movie despite this, but it’s not really a movie where you get emotionally invested or anything like that. Now this is a review of essentially half the story, and as of this point I haven’t watched Volume 2, so I can’t tell yet how the whole complete story works just yet.
There are a lot of actors in this movie and they do a great job in their roles. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays the lead character of Joe, we really just see her as she’s talking to Stellan Skarsgard’s character of Seligman and have a lot of conversations, both Gainsbourg and Skarsgard are great. In the flashbacks, the younger version of Joe is played by Stacy Martin, who does a fantastic job, in this volume, Martin really gets the lead in the movie. She has to do a lot of things, it’s a very challenging role and she absolutely nails it. Shia LaBeouf is also quite good in his (small) role here, though his English accent is a little hit or miss. We also have Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen as Joe’s parents, good in their limited screentime. We also get a bit of Uma Thurman in one chapter, also great. Really everyone did a good job in their roles.
I’ve only seen one movie from Lars von Trier now, but I can tell from his work on Nymphomaniac Volume 1 that he’s great at his craft. As this is a movie called Nymphomaniac, surrounding a sex addict, you can tell that there is a lot of sex shown on screen. However it actually isn’t exploitive or pornographic. It is basically as graphic as porn as you see pretty much everything, though apparently no actual sex was performed and there was a lot of body doubles, prosthetics and CGI face swapping involved. However it’s not particularly sexy, it doesn’t glamourize it at all, just portraying the sexual acts on screen with honesty to the story. It treated it much like how the movie Shame treated it (another movie about a sex addict), the sex actually has a point. As I said earlier, the version of Nymphomaniac I saw was apparently a ‘censored’ version, so I’m guessing there’s another version that’s much more graphic than this. There was some interesting editing choices made, with some scenes cutting to things like animals, and this mostly worked for me. This film would also have some visuals shown on screen, with words, numbers and shapes actually being drawn on screen during scenes (which surprised me). As much as I mostly loved Lars von Trier’s direction, there were some odd choices made that were out of place. For example, in chapter 3, the framing of the screen was much smaller compared to the rest of the movie, and I don’t really know why. Then in another chapter, it switched to black and white. Also the aforementioned visuals being shown on screen can be a little too much and trying too hard. I liked some of these moments, but we didn’t need a diagram to be drawn out showing Joe parking a car or things like that. They didn’t take the movie down a lot but it was a bit distracting.
Nymphomaniac Volume 1 is definitely not for everyone. It is a difficult to watch, slow moving arthouse movie about a sex addict. If you’re not immediately turned off by this concept and are interested in it based on my thoughts on the film, maybe you should check it out. However, it worked for me, The direction was mostly fantastic, the cast was great, and it was an effective story. With all that being said, this is only the first half of the movie, as of this moment writing this review I’ve just watched Volume 1 (and by the time I uploaded this review I would’ve watched Volume 2), so my view on part 1 could change depending on how the second part goes. It’s made me interested to watch the second half of the story, as well as von Trier’s other movies. Again though, I’ll probably need to watch Volume 2 before coming to a proper conclusion to the overall story.