Nymphomaniac: Volume I review


Credit: Zentropa Entertainments

I want to be surrounded by porn people who love me for what I am, who say, "Where do you want the erection, where do you want the penetration?" Where it's not complicated.

This golden sound bite was brought to you by Lars von Trier. Who else would say that? Nymphomaniac: Volume 1, which he wrote and directed, is a smorgasbord of sex, divided into five chapters. Though I walked in expecting a year’s worth of porn, what I got was a sex addict’s odyssey of her past conquests, and self-loathing as a result of her obsession.

After being rescued from a beating, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounts her life to her savior (Stellan Skarsgård). And so begin the metaphors: I was like a fly looking for fish. He played me like an organ. My legs were like automatic sliding doors. In other words, she really, really likes sex.

Young Joe is played by Stacy Martin, whom von Trier generously allows us to see naked from every angle. All the sex you see in the movie is real, with porn actors’ genitals digitally composited onto the bodies of the cast. All I can say is I feel bad for whatever movie theater accidentally screened the X-rated Nymphomaniac trailer before the PG-rated Frozen. True story. Parents are probably going to sue the shiz out of them because AMERICA.

Similar to von Trier’s previous film Melancholia (of which Gainsbourg also starred), the story revolves around a troubled woman using sex as escapism. Martin plays the coquettish counterpart to Gainsbourg’s dull ghost of Joe’s former self (both actresses share an eerily similar monotonous voice). Present Joe gives us vignettes of her sexual past, from losing her virginity to Jerôme, a young mechanic (Shia LaBeouf) to pulling as many guys as possible on a train. Her appetite for flesh becomes so ravenous that she screws 10 guys a day, losing track of their names.

Probably most heartbreaking is when Mrs. H (Uma Thurman), the wife of Joe’s paramour shows up at her door with her three sons. It’s tragically cliché and Thurman is remarkable. I wish I could say the same of LaBeouf, whose talent is overshadowed by his wonky accent. Is he British? Irish? Martian? I was so distracted by it that I couldn’t even pay attention to what he was saying.

But of all the previews I’ve read of this movie, nobody ever mentioned its dark humor. There are times when it’s kind of funny. Like the banner over the first sex scene, or the kitschy diagram depicting things that remind Joe of her first love. Even the story, itself of a downtrodden British woman regaling her sexcapades to a stranger sounds like something out of SNL.

I plan on watching Volume 2, which will be out in February in the UK and April in the US. So I should have at least a month to mentally prepare myself.

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