Previously on Nymphomaniac…Joe is found by Seligman beaten in an alleyway. She begins recounting her sex life to him because that’s something you totally do with strangers. Seligman proceeds to listen and ponder, making connections and analyzing Joe’s self-diagnosed nymphomania. Apparently searching for sex partners on a train reminds Seligman of his fishing hobby. Oh, and in case you didn’t know three and five were Fibonacci numbers, Seligman makes sure to remind you right after being told by Joe that she lost her virginity be getting penetrated thrice in the vagina and five times in the anus. Also, Uma Thurman is great at being poop-your-pants crazy. And we finish off with Joe screaming “I can’t feel anything” as she gets penetrated by Shia LaBeouf’s character. Awesome.
Starting right after the ending of the last film, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) continues telling Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) her life story. This time around, we see more of her older years, leading up to her meeting Seligman, as the encounters get even stranger.
I guess I should start off with the fact that, if you didn’t like the first film, then this is not going to do much for you. It’s about as simple as that. But I guess I should get a bit more in depth for those who are still interested after the erotic odyssey of the first film.
Going in, I was preparing myself to be disappointed. Not that I expected it to be bad, or anything like that, but given the uniquely fun tone and darkly-comedic aspect of the first film, I figured after a high like that, there is only one way to go and that is down. Especially considering that this is a Lars von Trier project. Thankfully though, the film does continue the tone of the first film for the first two acts, providing a handful of funny moments and thought-provoking writing. The film does get darker as it goes along, naturally, since we are out of the youthful stage and entering older adulthood. So, if the first film felt like a fresh of breath air for anyone into Lars, than this film will bring you into more familiar territory, particularly with the last act (more on that later).
Like the first, the acting is great. In this film, we get appearances from Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe, Caroline Goodall and Udo Kier, among others (though he’s only in it for one brief scene, and I think I’m not alone with the sentiment that the world needs more Udo Kier in movies), and they all do a fantastic job. Stacy Martin’s role is reduced this time around, so that we get more of older Joe with Charlotte Gainsbourg, but she still does great with her limited screen time. Speaking of Charlotte Gainsbourg, she is outstanding; she has more to do this time around, and she makes great use of her very expressive eyes. Anyway, it also goes without saying that Stellan Skarsgård is great. Oddly enough, like in the first film with Stacy Martin, one of the exceptional performances in the film is from a newcomer, this time around being Mia Goth, who we know as P in the film, a slightly disfigured, young, impressionable girl who finds some brief affection with Joe. Oh, and you know what? Shia LaBeouf is not bad this time. He seems to have completely dropped the accent, so he was able to actually act, and he did well.
The technical aspects of the film are very well done, as it was before. The cinematography is great, the music is good (and that stupid Rammstein song from the first film doesn’t come back, thankfully), the writing is sharp and constantly moving, giving you something to ponder about at every corner of the story.
Now…about the ending. This will probably be a make-it-or-break-it for some people, at least in terms of a general audience, whom I can’t imagine taking such a misanthropic and cynical ending without some complaining. I was prepared for something like it, and a part of me did see it coming. I personally did not hate the ending; ultimately I have mixed feelings about it. I think it could have worked much better, if it had been better developed, so that it doesn’t come off as a last-minute “screw-you-I’m-Lars-von-Trier-and-that-means-you-can’t-be-happy” moment. And given how relatively light and overall, entertaining the last film was, even this film for the most part, despite being darker, it felt like Lars just couldn’t resist throwing something at the end to just ruin your mood. It is something I’m used to at this point with his films, but I can see others being extremely frustrated, and like I said I do think it would have worked, if Lars just did more to develop and build up to that moment at the very end. It didn’t kill the film for me, but I can see the ending leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths.
Nymphomaniac Volume II is about as good as the first film, only losing a few points because of the ending. The film follows the first film with ease and could easily serve a satisfactory double feature as intended, if that’s what you’re into. They both confront fascinating and serious issues regarding society and its relationship with sex, and it does so with the guts and bravado that only Lars von Trier could pull off and he pulls it off masterfully, for the most part. It’s not without its faults, but there is some excellent filmmaking with the two films. Again, it is not for everybody, but they both still come highly recommended for those who can stomach it.
Side Note: Nymphomaniac marks for the final installment of Lars von Trier’s “Depression Trilogy”, with the previous two films being Antichrist and Melancholia. So, it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. For a foreign director mostly admired by critics and arthouse enthusiasts, he has covered a variety of genres with his films (well, at least in his own twisted way). Perhaps he could try another sci-fi film, like Melancholia, or maybe another musical like Dancer in the Dark, both were excellent, so either way; whatever his next project will be, I’ll definitely wait in anticipation. Oh, and if he does another musical, please don’t let Peter Stormare sing again.