Friday, March 28, 2014

3 + 5 = fuck if I know...

In case you weren't aware, this is a vagina

There are a handful of directors who have created such buzz surrounding their distinct voices that there is talk about them, their films and their methods with every film, before, after and even long after he’s moved on to something else.  Lars von Trier is probably the king of this.  Since his start in the early 90’s, von Trier has graced audiences (small audiences, but audiences) with his perverse and often shocking depictions of sexuality, sexism and masochism.  Sometimes, he finds ways to shade his own ideas, philosophies, theories and musings with enough style and depth to make them feel warranted, making the shock of it all carry the weight it needs to sit on our palate.

And then other times he just shows us a lot of pictures of genitals and expects us to feel something other than repulsion.

Now, I’ve been a longstanding champion of von Trier and his vision.  While others have tossed many disparaging remarks his way and have taken arms against some of his more recent films, I’ve stood my ground and played devil’s advocate in his favor.  ‘Antichrist’ was a pretty disturbing film, but when all was said and done there was an underlying purpose to von Trier’s madness, and while it didn’t all translate how he would have liked (or at least how the audience would have liked) there is no denying that von Trier had a pretty bold narrative and some pretty confident points to entertain, and the core performance from Charlotte Gainsbourg was astonishingly grounded in the context of the film (such a fearless performance, through and through). 

I can’t defend this.

First one to catch chlamydia wins
‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 & 2’ is basically a four hour film that recounts a young woman’s many, many, many sexual trysts.  Pretending to exploit (here we go again with exploitation in film) the double standard that abounds within the treatment of men and women, especially in a sexual context, ‘Nymphomaniac’ confuses all of its own ideals in a strange hodgepodge of ‘chapters’ that drone on and on and ultimately take us nowhere.  Opening with a beaten young woman named Joe being helped off the street by the neighborhood psychiatrist, Seligman, and then delving into the depths of carnal lusting and abuse, ‘Nymphomaniac’ is probably one of the most self-absorbed and self-indulgent films I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing.

I think that Lars von Trier has a deep-seated interest in uncovering the depths of a woman’s psyche.  I don’t think that he is a misogynist at all.  In fact, I tend to side with Uma Thurman on this subject:

“He’s a very provocative filmmaker, but he writes women with more depth and respect and complexity than most writers.  The idea that people debate whether he’s a misogynist?  People should debate whether people who don’t even write women are misogynist.  The fact is, he’s dedicated a large portion of his artistic life to the exploration of the female psyche—good and bad, light and dark, shadows, textures.  The fact that he’s dedicated a huge part of his talents to that, to me, defies the concept that he doesn’t have respect, interest, and genuine compassion in women.  People should question writers that don’t even give a damn about a female character.  They are the misogynists.”

I'm obviously too good for this shit
Sadly, this respect and intrigue isn’t seen very well here at all.  Instead, ‘Nymphomaniac’ feels about as misogynist as they come, and at the end of the day it’s even worse than that; the film feels just plain trashy.  Lars von Trier has built a career out of shock value, but his shocking contributions to film have always felt grounded in a linier plot or at least in an idea that has sprouted into madness, but a clear idea at the core.  Most of ‘Nymphomaniac’ feels nonsensical and devoid of rational narrative, and while he tries to find some footing in the film’s final throws, he never establishes anything concrete within Joe’s story to hook us to her, to latch onto us and so it all winds up feeling rather misguided.

There is a point here, but von Trier doesn’t know what it is.

Instead, von Trier treats us to a young girl’s dissention into depravity.  She prostitutes herself for sexual pleasure at a very young age, playing games with her best friend and even forming a club that’s primary focus was to rack up sexual partners, never forming a lasting relationship with anyone (no one lay to be repeated), and Joe recounts her story with absolutely no emotion, as if none of it matters (because it doesn’t) and Seligman tries to liken her whorish behavior to numbers and fish while she relates it all to her dying father and an ash tree; and while Joe is pretending she’s falling in love with Shia LaBeouf (because that could never happen for real), volume 1 ends and volume 2 begins and this is where things get dicey.  Sexual pleasure is lost, which leads to Joe finding her own personal Fight Club and hiring translators to hook her up with Africans and before we know it, Joe has become a Soprano and is grooming a freaky eared nymph to take her place, and her man.

And then Seligman takes off his pants.

Why are your pants still on?
There is so much going on here and yet none of it ever feels necessary.  It is all just there to make your eyes hurt (they will hurt) and the film’s primary point seems to center on how Joe’s disturbing actions are all validated because men are disgusting pigs and she is living in the repressed guilt of her of desires, but it’s not that simple and yet von Trier never steps back from his own visual shockfest long enough to try and actually develop these themes.  Instead he’d rather show us a bunch of genitalia and sexual acts and then force feed us a finale that feels appropriate ONLY because the film pretty much sets us up for a cop-out ending.

There is such a thing as being bold and fearless, and ‘Nymphomaniac’ is both of those things, but it is also soulless and hollow, and when you are both of THOSE things, bold and fearless will only harm you.

I give this a D.  I probably should give it an F and yet there are some technical aspects of this film that are rather great, and some of the supporting performances are truly worth noting, especially Uma Thurman who breaths such rich life into her five minute scene.  She's remarkable, and is an early frontrunner for the Fisti Supporting Actress Award.  Oscar won't even take a look in this film's direction, and really not many people will either.  Hopefully one day von Trier will get back to developing stories worthy of his obvious talent.

For now, we're stuck with his interpretation of 'Don Juan DeMarco'.  Think about it.

At least we all know now why Shia LaBeouf isn't famous anymore


  1. I never debate if Von Trier is misogynistic. I know he is. His behavior on the set says it all, no matter what kind of writing he does.

    This movie was just...boring. However I did like the young actress who played young Joe. This whole thing would be so much more interesting if the film just focused on her and her friend.

    1. I just didn't think Joe as a character was remotely interesting. In fact, Mrs. H and K were like the only characters I felt held the space they were given, but more time probably would have deluded them enough to kill them entirely.

      Seligman, as a character, was rather fascinating, but Skarsgard's performance and the way von Trier wrote the character was pretty awful.

  2. Haha. I kinda love how differently we reacted to this. I'm fascinated by divisive films, and von Trier always delivers on that front.

    Thurman is my early frontrunner too!

    1. Thank God for Thurman!

      LOL, I normally at least respond in some degree to von Trier, but this felt so unfocused and underdeveloped, despite all the penises.

  3. Hated Vol. 1, I still need to watch Vol. 2 but I just can't bring myself to watch it, bleughh.
    Melancholia is a masterpiece, in my opinion, so I was hoping Lars would be able to direct another great film, but boy was I wrong.

    1. Vol. 2 is actually a tinge better, I think...or maybe I was blinded by the quivering vagina. I have to see the second Vol. so you can complete the experience. Besides, the whipping scene is the most shocking thing I've ever

      Take THAT 12 Years a Slave.