Monday, March 17, 2014

Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 Review

I don't really have an anticipated films list honestly. Usually, I start to get excited for a film about a week or two before its released, when the commercials, ads, reviews, and previews begin to flock the internet, my TV, and whenever I see other movies. That being said, I do have a short list of movies that I am looking forward to in 2014 (and by short I mean I can fit them onto one hand), and one of them is Nymphomaniac. Nymphomaniac is unique in the case that the movie has been split into two parts and are being released only a month apart instead of a year or so. While it sucks that I can't just watch the full movie in one go, I realized that Nymphomaniac is four hours long, so trying to get through it in one go would be a taxing effort. It would be even more taxing though if I knew in advance just what kind of a movie I was getting into.

Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is the story of Joe, a self proclaimed nymphomaniac. The movie starts with her being beaten and bruised in an alley and taken in by a kind man named Seligman. Joe then spends the entire movie, or the first half given the fact that it's cut into two parts but that's beside the point, narrating her life as a nympho from when she was a young child up until when she was a young adult. In this self reflection, she talks about how she lost her virginity, her first true love, ruining several families, and dealing with her familial issues. All of these sequences also have the benefit of being compared to fishing, cake forks, Edgar Allen Poe, and the Pythagorean Theorum.

Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 was directed by Lars Von Trier... and if you don't know who that is, OH BOY DO I HAVE SOME FUN THINGS FOR YOU. Von Trier is a Danish film maker that is well known for making art house and often times controversial movies. His "Depression Trilogy", which Nymphomaniac being the last movie in said trilogy, features Antichrist, the movie where this was a thing, and Melancholia, which are all said to represent Von Trier's struggles with depression and fear. And after seeing Antichrist, that's saying a lot. He's also a man who said that he maybe, sort of, kinda, sympathizes with Hitler and gets him a bit. So yeah, that's the guy we're dealing with for this movie; a man who suffers from depression and comes from an art house background making a movie about a movie who is a sex addict.

Great idea time! Let's make all of the posters show the characters having
an orgasm! Brilliant!!!
Needless to say, this movie is a bit on the controversial side, mostly for how it portrays sex and for how it treats the idea of female empowerment. The way this movie treats Joe is rather fascinating, since I don't think I can safely call her a female role model, yet at the same time calling her a step back for feminism doesn't seem right. She says often times that she wants to "Be a possession and have a man touch her like an object", yet she treats all of the men she has sex with like toys. She even has a little game that determines whether she calls a guy back or dumps him. Joe is a whore, but she's a whore in control and doesn't seem weak in the slightest. She uses men and doesn't believe in love, seeing it as just an extension of lust with a bit of jealousy thrown in, but when she falls in love she wants to be treated like an object.

I'm by no means an expert on feminism or gender roles, but this is a movie that just seems to be playing so many different sides. It offers contrasting viewpoints about Joe and her life that while I can understand what she does, like goes on a sex spree when the man she has a crush on gets married, I don't understand why she does it. This movie is essentially porn, since there's sex almost every ten minutes of the film, but it doesn't seem gratuitous at all. It seems natural and isn't meant to be erotic for the sake of being erotic, but instead uses sex as a means for getting Joe's character and the plot along. I applaud Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 for not just being "classy porn" and having depth behind it. The sex is used to show how Joe's mind works, for better or worse. I do think that it gets taken a bit too far at times though, like how she masturbates after a traumatic incident with her father, but on the most part it is well handled. 

What isn't really well handled is the pacing of the movie, which plods along at a slow crawl for half of the time. The movie is divided up into 5 chapters, The Compleat Angler, Jerome, Mrs. H, Delirium, and The Little Organ School, and each one has significant problems, but none of them are the same. Compleat Angler is crammed full of fishing analogies to the point where it gets frustrating, Jerome is tonally different from the entire movie in a not so good way, Mrs. H is one long VERY awkward scene that will make the audience uncomfortable, Delirium is for some reason shot mono-chromatically for style, and The Little Organ School is completely unrelated to the main story except to prove a very long winded analogy. Each has significant problems that prevent me from fully becoming entranced with them. 

This whole scene will just make you feel dirty
Adding onto the movie's problems are the weird editing choices done in the movie. Sometimes text will just appear on screen to enforce a point, which is fine, but when the movie stops in its tracks to show diagrams of mathematical theorems and explaining the nature of Bach's name, then I draw the line. It isn't pretentious, but the overarching framework is not even close to reality. Because it's told as a flashback, the movie is just Joe and Seligman talking about Joe's life. Seligman usually starts of on a pointless fact, which Joe uses as a springboard for her story, but then Seligman comes in a few minutes later to explain the significance of his analogy and how is perfectly describes Joe's life, like with the fishing angler in The Compleat Angler. He usually interrupts Joe in the middle of her story to explain how what she was doing related to fishing when all we want to hear about is Joe's story. I came for the nymphomania, not for fishing techniques.

As a whole though, I do like this movie. It has a lot of merit behind it and while it does come from a director who I find to be highly questionable, it's still a solid movie. It's just dragged down by constant art house bull. That being said, if it was done by a different director, then this wouldn't nearly be as classy or even be getting the slightest bit of attention it's getting now. I can't even call it porn, because porn has such a negative connotation that doesn't fit this movie. This is a sex movie that plays on a grief ridden, depressed nymphomaniac. I encourage everyone to see this movie if only to form an opinion on how this movie treats women, sex, and the idea of love. It's a movie that deserves to start discussions, regardless of its overall quality. 

I'm giving this movie a rating despite the fact that it is essentially a part 1 of a much longer movie, but that's the cards I've been dealt. I won't change my score for this movie when I see Nymphomaniac Vol. 2, but as it stands, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 gets a solid 3 out of 5. 

Insert Shia LaBeouf sex joke here. Oh wait... I can't. He already f***ed himself.

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