Brutal Next Chapter Defines ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2’

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CHICAGO – The exploration of sexuality is a stark breakthrough in the “Nymphomaniac” film series by writer/director Lars von Trier. In the story of a woman interacting with her nature, there are shades of all physically active individuals. “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” covered the younger days of the main character of Joe. Vol. 2 takes her to the next, and more brutal phase – challenging her life and her disposition.

This chapter is much darker, and contains von Trier’s characteristic pessimism on the human condition. The heroine Joe goes through numerous examinations of her strong carnal intuition and there are negative consequences in every unlit corner. The two films work separately. Vol. 1 is relatively more matter of fact – Joe does create chaos through her early sex life, but seems to find some semblance of connection. In Vol. 2, the reason she is found bloodied in an alley is revealed. Taken together – as originally envisioned by the filmmaker – the two chapters may blend the story better. Separately, Vol. 2’s darkness is sadder and more punishing. Does Joe really deserve what she gets?

As in Vol. 1, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has been rescued by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), and in exchange is telling her life story of nymphomania to her attendant. In flashback, the younger Joe (Stacy Martin) is now relatively domestic, even having a child with her lover Jerome (Shia LaBeouf). Her sexual appetite changes physically, but doesn’t abate psychologically, and soon she is practicing an open relationship.

Mia Goth, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg, left) Takes on the Apprentice P (Mia Goth) in ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2’
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

As her desire for experimentation continues, she begins sessions with a “therapist” named K (Jamie Bell) and it drives her away from Jerome. She then becomes a societal outsider, and begins to make a living as a collector for a mysterious Mr. L (Willem Dafoe). He suggests she take an apprentice, and so she adopts a young girl named P (Mia Goth). This addition to her life will also begin her downfall, her path to Seligman.

It is the “experimentation” phase of her extreme sexuality which is engine for the more difficult elements of “Vol. 2.” Her childbirth causes a shift in her physical sensations, and she graduates to S & M to induct a feeling, any feeling. This is graphically exposed in the film, as director von Trier lingers on the whippings and humiliations by K. It is all about the loss in this part of Joe’s life, and how she tries to fill in that void is damaging upon what is already damaged.

The subplots in “Vol. 2” are less intriguing than the first part, which in comparison was a relatively sunny time in Joe’s life. The choice of her profession as debt collector leads to a mind-bending scene in which Joe recites condensed versions of sexual proclivities to determine how to control and blackmail a victim. There is no equivalent power in any of the scenes that are equal to Uma Thurman’s rant in “Vol. 1.,” what replaces that electricity is more unsavory.

However the “adoption” is fascinating, and inevitably the lovely P becomes a world replacement for Joe, which is an odd way for the story to conclude. Von Trier wants the audience to know that life is filled with people who are victims of their sexual nature, and are on display everyday. Even the return of Jerome (portrayed as older by Michael Pas) is a reminder of his quirk for defiling younger women. Also Seligman, who takes in, cares for and patiently listens to Joe, eventually dissolves in von Trier’s pessimism.

Jamie Bell
Mr. K (Jamie Bell) is a Specialist in ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2’
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

What is slightly disappointing – emphasis on the word slightly, because the subject matter in the film was ripe for exposition – was that all the characters had to pay for their “sins of nature” eventually. Von Trier creates a religious-like karma for Joe’s overuse of her sexual self, and allows that she has to be constantly “on the run” from it. I guess there are paybacks in any extreme practice, I just prefer it without judgement or reign of fire.

In a von Trier movie, he doesn’t give the soul of collective society much of a chance, especially when dealing with the biological imperatives of our animal nature. Kindness, sensitivity to feelings, and protection of vulnerability gets crowded out in the mists of sexual opportunism.

“Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2” has a limited release, including Chicago, on April 4th. Featuring Charlotte Gainsborg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater and Willem Dafoe. Written and directed by Lars von Trier. Not Rated, but contains sexually graphic scenes. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald,

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