Nymphomaniac: vol. II

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PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Joe reminisces about a field trip as a young girl that suggests she had a vision of Valeria Messalina and the Whore of Babylon looking at her as she levitates and spontaneously has her first orgasm. She also becomes annoyed with Seligman, accusing him of overlooking the severity of her lost sexuality to focus on the allegorical before realizing he can’t relate to her stories. He goes on to confirm his asexuality and virginity, but assures her his lack of bias and “innocence” is what makes him the right man to hear her story. She becomes inspired to tell him another portion of her life after noticing an Andrei Rublev-styled icon of the Virgin Mary and a discussion about the differences between the Eastern Church (‘the church of happiness”) and the Western Church (“the church of suffering”).

Joe falls into a crisis when she realizes that she has lost all interest in sex; Jerôme and she try to work on her problem, but nothing seems to work. When the two conceive a baby together, Marcel, Jerôme struggles to keep up with her constant sex demand and so he allows her to frequent other men in order to satisfy her mood. This is shown to be detrimental later however as he becomes jealous of her endeavors.

As the years pass, her sexual endeavors become increasingly fetishistic – as she encourages a tryst with an African immigrant that becomes a botched threesome when he brings his brother along – and eventually violent, culminating in visits to K (Jamie Bell), a sadomasochist who viciously assaults women seeking his company. The more she visits him, the more Joe’s visits to K eventually take priority over her duties to Marcel. When Jerôme comes home one day to find him unattended and in danger of falling out of their apartment, he starts watching Joe closely and, on Christmas Day, makes her pick between her family or K. She picks the latter and, after receiving a savage beating from K, takes a path of loneliness away from her one and only possibility of a normal life.

Joe concludes the story, to keep it from ending on an unhappy note, with the first time K fisted her, her introduction to “the Silent Duck”, which leaves Seligman surprised and impressed at K’s talents.

Some time passes and Joe is left with some irreversible damage due to a lifetime of sexual activity mixed with K’s brutality. Her nymphomania is shown to be well known around her new office, prompting her boss to demand she attend sex addiction anonymous groups under the threat of losing her current job and any future jobs she takes. After three weeks of sexual sobriety, Joe drops out of the meetings after seeing a reflection of her younger self in a mirror and verbally attacking her therapist and every other member of the group.

In between chapters, Joe tells Seligman she isn’t sure where to continue from that point as she’s used every item from around his room to help inspire each “chapter”. After a suggestion from him, she notices how the stain from a cup of tea she threw in anger at the climax of “The Eastern and the Western Church” looks like a Walther PPK, the same kind of gun her favorite literary character James Bond uses, and knows exactly how and where to end her story.

Realizing she has no place in society, Joe turns to organized crime and uses her experience in sex and sadomasochism to beat debtors for money. Her superior, L (Willem Dafoe), recommends that she find an apprentice and successor and suggests the daughter of a family of criminals. The girl in question, P (Mia Goth), eventually ends up moving in with Joe. They soon engage in a sexual relationship before Joe teaches P the ropes of her trade.

On one occasion during a round of debt collection, Joe notices that they are at a house belonging to Jerôme (now played by Michaël Pas), and, to make sure she is not seen, tells P to perform her first solo job. Joe soon discovers that P is cheating on her with Jerôme. After being inspired by finding her “soul tree” in a failed attempt to leave town, she waits for Jerôme and P in an alley in between Jerôme’s home and Joe’s apartment and pulls a gun she confiscated from P earlier on him. When she pulls the trigger, she forgets to rack the pistol to chamber a round and Jerôme viciously beats Joe, then penetrates P in front of her in the same way he took Joe’s virginity. P then urinates on her and they leave her as she was at the beginning of the story.

In the present, Seligman describes to Joe that the circumstances of her life might have been due to differences in gender representation; all of the stigma, guilt and shame she felt for her actions made her fight back aggressively “like a man”. He also states that she subconsciously did not want to kill Jerôme and so forgot to remember you need to rack an automatic pistol. Joe, who has until this moment been playing devil’s advocate to Seligman’s assumptions, announces she is too tired to go on and asks to go to sleep.

As she begins to drift off, Seligman returns and climbs into Joe’s bed with his pants off, attempting to initiate sexual intercourse. The film cuts to black as Joe, realizing what Seligman is trying, reaches for and racks the gun. We hear Seligman protest as he justifies his actions, followed by a gunshot and the sounds of Joe grabbing her things and fleeing the apartment.

REVIEW:

Picking up where Nymphomaniac: vol. I left off, Nymphomaniac: vol. II continues telling the tragic life of Joe. As shocked and appalled as audiences may have been with the first film, one can only but wonder if this installment will push the envelope even further.

What is this about?

The second half of Lars von Trier’s epic follows Joe as her reignited sex addiction destroys her family and thrusts her toward a surprising new trade.

What did I like?

Shia guy. Like many people, I am not a fan of Shia Lebeouf, so you can imagine how glad I am that his character was scaled back in this volume. Seriously, the guy has come a long way since his Disney channel days, and maybe in time he could become a great, much like DiCaprio did, but for now he’s just an annoying kid who they keep shoving down our throats. In these films, we see much more of him than we ever needed to. Ugh!

Ring a bell. Jamie Bell isn’t someone who I am very familiar with, but I know this is not really the kind of role he is known for. It takes some acting chops to be able to go into the dark corner of one’s psyche and beat a woman for pleasure. Watching this scene and his interactions with Gainsburg’s character, I was reminded of the film Secretary and how intense those scenes were. Kudos to both actors for pulling this off. I can’t imagine it was easy.

Stellar Stellan. Over the last few years, Stellan Skarsgard has been appearing in bit parts here and there, some role bigger than others. With this character, I was wondering how it was that he was able to sit there and listen to this tale without getting, shall we say, “hot and bothered”. My question was answered as he gives us a little background on his persona between chapters, adding some character to his, um…character.

What didn’t I like?

Age restriction. Lars von Trier is well-known for having controversial topics in his films. It isn’t really discussed, but there is a hint of pedophilia that is brought up. A young girl, not really sure how old, gets naked and in the bed with our protagonist. In Chloe, a similar scene took place, but Amanda Seyfried’s character was of legal age, which made it sexy, not creepy. Having Julianne Moore, didn’t hurt, either. From a personal standpoint, I have to say that this whole angle was in bad taste, at least to have shown everything the way von Trier decided to do. Sometimes I think filmmakers do things like this just to see if they can get away with it.

Job. I might have missed exactly what it is that Gainsburg’s character does, but the fact that we see her go to work for Willem Dafoe and then bring her young protégé in to the business made me curious as to what it really is that they do. There seemed to be a bit of an illegal nature to what they do, but not enough to where they were worried about the cops. Perhaps they were just bail bondspersons or something? At any rate, my curiosity won’t let me be!

Weakness. If I’m not mistaken, both this film and the previous volume were meant to be seen together in one setting. I believe they were written and filmed that way, as well. So why is it that this half of the film seems so much weaker than is predecessor? Is it because it has been so long since I watched vol I? I couldn’t quite tell you, but I do know that this didn’t keep my attention nearly as much as its predecessor managed to do.

For a film that was so talked about, Nymphomaniac: vol. II sure left me feeling as if I had wasted two hours of my life. Is the writing good? Yes, but nothing that you can’t catch in just about any other indie drama. Visuals? There is one striking visual near the beginning, but that’s it. Acting? Eh…some are better than others. Overall, I found this to be some pretentious films that accomplishes nothing more than to show how far these people are up Lars von Trier’s ass! No, I do not recommend it.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

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