Have you ever been in a social situation where somebody of obvious intelligence—but lacking manners—is droning on about some esoteric, profound-to-them bullshit to the point where you would rather stick a Darth Vader figure in your eye than listen to them speak a second further?
That's how I've felt watching both chapters of Lars von Trier's god-awful Nymphomaniac. I felt as if I had gone to a party where the host put out stale chips, imbibed a bottle of whiskey and began spewing unfunny, dirty jokes while occasionally punching random partygoers in the face. Worst ... party ... ever, unless you are just into that sort of thing.
Vol. 1 introduced Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a woman found bloodied and beaten in an alley by a kind soul (Stellan Skarsgård), who invites the woman into his home and endures her stories about being a nymphomaniac.
The first film ended with the younger version of her character (Stacy Martin) losing her orgasm (Hey, Joe ... did you check the change drawer? I lost my ear buds a couple of weeks ago and, lo and behold, that's where they ended up, next to an old tin of Altoids!).
After having a baby, Joe (with Gainsbourg now fully portraying the role as an older woman) gets her orgasm back by having Jamie Bell—aka Billy Elliot, aka the dude who married Evan Rachel Wood after she slept with Marilyn Manson—put her through intense S&M sessions. These sessions contain such visual pleasures as Bell constantly checking Gainsbourg's oil with his fingers and beating her ass with a variety of whips until it is purple and bleeding. One of those beating weapons is a Christmas gift addressed to Fido, which I guess is supposed to be funny.
What's supposed to be even funnier is that Joe starts working for a crime boss (Willem Dafoe), acting as a cash collector while using S&M. Her methods are persuasive enough to keep her in business, even if she does give the occasional blowjob to a pedophile because she feels pity for him going through life and not being able to act out on his impulses. Wow.
All of this eventually leads to the place where we met Joe in the first film, beaten up in an alley for Skarsgård's character to discover. The big revelation in Vol. II is that, not only was Joe bloody, but she was also covered in the pee of her loan shark protégé (Mia Goth). Folks, I'm not making this stuff up.
Skarsgård gives a wrap-up speech that tries to change the film into some sort of statement about female empowerment. The sentiment falls laughably flat. The final scene tries to turn the fiasco into one big goof, and that falls flat, too. When this movie was over, I leapt up with delight and ran at top speed toward the exit, which was odd because I was watching a screener in my own home.
There are some good things in this movie. For starters, Christian Slater fails to shit himself in this installment. Gainsbourg has a great moment at a sex addicts' meeting in which she puts everybody in their place. It's the sort of moment I was expecting more of in the Nymphomaniac films. It's also a lot cooler than watching Bell giving Joe the "silent duck" treatment with his hand earlier in the film. No further details necessary.
I've had arguments with friends about the legitimacy of Lars von Trier as a filmmaker. I claim he is a talented man, with a depth of vision that rivals any of the modern-day directors, a truly demented genius.
After watching this misstep, I feel as though my von Trier argument has lost some punch. Nymphomaniac, volumes 1 and II, represent some of the very worst filmmaking I've ever had to endure. A damn shame.