I watched Lars Von Tier’s four-hour long epic, Nymphomaniac, last night. Here are some quick impressions.
1) Nymphomaniac is easily Von Tier’s most accessible work to date and I would actually recommend it to the uninitiated.
2) Yes, the subject matter is shocking, but not in the way I thought it would be. The moments of graphic sex served the narrative and rarely distracted.
3) Why is it that we, as humans, find the depiction of sex, whether in film or literature, distressing? Why do I find it shocking?
4) Von Tier’s narrator, Joe (portrayed by both Von Tier muse, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Stacy Martin.), is your typically unsympathetic Von Tier character: Cold, detached, possessing a scientists world view. These traits make it hard for the audience to relate to her. Of course, this is life. We’re all unrelatable whether we want to admit it or not.
5) Sex is shocking because it is something we all desire. We see the act portrayed and it makes us flush (even if it is only internally) because we all want to fuck and we know that fucking is attainable. Unlike violence, which we view with an almost fantasy level malevolence.
6) Christian Slater was good in his role as Joe’s loving father. It’s odd for me to write that because Christian Slater has never been good in anything.
7) We’re never disgusted by violence because most of us could never imagine committing a violent act, which is also why we’re so permissible about violence in mass media such as books, film, television, video games, et cetera.
8) Perhaps the most horrifying moment in the film is Uma Thurman’s scene midway through the movie. Thurman chews the screen. She takes large breathtaking bites from it as she slowly crumbles, emotionally rendering herself in front of her soon-to-be ex-husband, her three sons, and her husband’s lover, who in no way loves him and only uses him for his cock.
9) The scene is ghastly because of the barely contained violence of it. So much emotion steaming to the surface, finally boiling over as Thurman exits the lover’s apartment with her children. She screams three times, all are shattering, wracked with pain. This scene is a defining moment for Thurman as an actress.
10) Stellan Skarsgård’s character, Seligman, is a sixty-year-old virgin and is also a prototypical Von Tier character. He is sad, lonely, detached. He is Joe’s polar opposite, but in a sense is Joe without the sensation of sex to drive him. He’s, instead, a creature of the mind who views sex as a literary device as opposed to an act of love. But in his scenes, you can see the cracks in his personality; he truly sees sex as unattainable.
11) “The secret ingredient to sex is love.”
12) The movie is ham-fistedly feminist. But then again, the dramatic portrayal of any philosophy or belief system is ham-fisted.
13) Seligman is sad because he places sex on a pedestal. But then again, so does Joe, and this makes her equally sad.
14) I find the depiction of sex uncomfortable for the same reason you do.
15) The scenes of BDSM are the most graphic acts in the film. During these scenes of punishment, Von Tier’s lens never looks away. We see the lashes, the cuts and marks they cause. Von Tier mixes sex and violence, fusing fantasy with reality.
16) Because it is so clumsy, awkward, messy. Sex is human at its frailest. Sex proves our frailty.
17) Sex is not the fantasy, it’s a biological imperative. Violence is the fantasy.
18) Shia LaBeouf is a pretty good actor when he doesn’t try too hard. He tries too hard most of the time.
19) From an evolutionary standpoint, revealing our greatest weakness is why the portrayal of sex makes us uncomfortable. I know how that sounds, but, hey, survival is life’s only purpose.
20) In conclusion, Nymphomaniac is trashy, pretentious, self-indulgent, and I would watch it again. You probably wouldn’t want to, though, mainly because it’s four hours long.
21) Although, I didn’t like the ending. It wrapped it up too tidily. This, however, is Von Tier’s greatest weakness as a filmmaker.
22) Lists are a pretentious, self-indulgent way to review a movie or book.
23) Fuck you, I like lists.