Lars von Trier’s “Nympomaniac: Volume I” starts in darkness (the screen is black) with the sounds of water dripping on metal and “Volume II” ends in darkness with the sounds of frantic footsteps running away. In between Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), self-described nymphomaniac and “bad human being,” rescued from an alley where she’s lying bleeding and taken to his spartan apartment by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), tells the middle-aged bachelor the erotic story of her life.
Joe and Seligman occupy opposite poles of human sexuality. She’s pure body, remembers having experienced sexual pleasure in childhood and has obsessively pursued numberless sexual encounters since adolescence, loving only her father (Christian Slater–not the bit of stunt casting that is seems on paper) who immersed the young Joe in the world of nature, and Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) whom she leaves, after she loses the ability to have an orgasm. Seligman, living with his books and classical music is pure mind–and a virgin. And although both are speaking in English, they seem dubbed (as does the entire cast), often (intentionally?) affectless.
Von Trier’s new film–and yes, it’s as explicit as reported, but also mostly unsexy–will do little to resolve whether his heroines are powerful or put-upon and it neither confirms nor dispels the charges of misogyny frequently leveled against the great filmmaker/ provocateur. (Card-carrying member of NOW that I am, I usually vote to acquit, maybe indelibly influenced by my first encounter with von Trier’s women, Emily Watson’s transcendent performance in “Breaking the Waves.”)
Over the credits, in the breathy voice she inherited from her mother, Charlotte Gainsbourg sings, “Hey, Joe.” Von Trier could have just as easily assigned his leading lady “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”
And in the credits it says “no actors performed sex acts.” Either that depends on what your definition of sex acts is or bits of the bodies of porn stars and “real stars” were digitally fused to protect the prominent. And allow me to be facetious–if a body double stood in for the coltish Stacy Martin (who plays the young Joe), I want that person to pretend to be me.
“Nymphomaniac Volume II” opens nationwide today. “”Nymphomaniac Volume I” is already in theaters and both films are available on demand.