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Film Review: ‘Nymphomaniac: Volume 2’

Muhammad Muzammal Columnist


Somber and dark, Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac: Volume 2” is the haunting and provocative ending piece of the director’s duology on the life of a self-hating, guilt-ridden and sexually driven protagonist.

The heroine is Joe (Stacy Martin/Charlotte Gainsbourg), mentioned in my review of Volume 1 as being emotionally apathetic to the act of sex. In Volume 2, she becomes physically incapable of feeling any sexual sensation and is thus driven to great lengths to get back that feeling.

One of the things that Volume 2 does better than its counterpart, is emotionally delving into Joe’s desperation to obtain her lost sexual arousal.

Joe becomes pregnant from her first lover, Jerôme (an overly melodramatic Shia LeBeouf). She tries to adapt to a practical life of a mother. Jerôme and Joe, due to inconceivable differences, separate and Joe, in terms of sexual arousal, is a vegetable.

She tries group sex, masturbation and even therapy. The most violent and disturbing scenes out of both volumes is when Joe attends S and M sessions with K (Jamie Bell) where she is brutally battered and physically abused. As such with sadomasochism, Joe expects to derive sexual pleasure from K’s actions which include whipping, slapping and punching. It turns out, she still remains numb.

The character of Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who was simply a listener to Joe’s story in Volume 1, is further developed. We figure that he is a virgin and therefore, the best judge for Joe’s sexually hungry character. Skarsgård is impressive here, conveying a sense of loneliness, an emotion that he shares with his new found friend.

The performances of newcomer Stacy Martin and Von Trier regular Charlotte Gainsbourg as young Joe and old Joe, respectively, are extraordinary. Each actress is able to show Joe’s cold, distant approach to sex, but also her depressed, broken side, formed by the death of her father (Christian Slater) and the constant, emotional detachment from men.

As men objectify Joe and act indifferently towards her, her body becomes indifferent to sex. Joe’s greatest tragedy is not losing Jerôme or her father; rather it is becoming numb to what she’s been good at for her whole life: sex.

“Nymphomaniac” as a whole then is a love story between Joe and her sexual sensations. Like a long lost love, she can’t get back what she once had; no matter how hard she tries. “Nymphomaniac: Volume 2” is one of Von Trier’s most daring films as he features sequences that are hard to look at, but hard to turn away from (the S/M scenes). He creates a heroine, whose behavior resembles more that of the “Whore of Babylon” than “Rosie the Riveter.”

Joe is the direct antithesis of modern movie heroines such as Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” series or Ryan Stone of “Gravity,” as she is a self-hated individual who uses others and is used by others. Yet, Joe isn’t detestable or even likable.

Von Trier’s greatest achievement is allowing us not to hate or even like Joe, but to sit back and observe the complex life of a nymphomaniac. His film is masterfully objective and unlike almost every character in the film, it treats Joe as a human being. I imagine Joe would love that.


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