Film: ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. II’ Climaxes to Expectations

By Will Ashton | wa054010@ohiou.edu| @thewillofash
Nymphomaniac: Vol. II
| Directed by Lars von Trier | Not Rated
RATING: 3/5

Nymphomaniac-Volume-II-PosterIn my assessment of Nymphomaniac: Vol. I, I highlighted my misunderstanding of how to approach the film. As in, whether it should be looked at as one half of one overarching film, or just as its own individual film?

Well, I still cannot give an answer to that question. But, having now seen Nymphomaniac: Vol. II, I can at least assertively put my foot down on what I feel about writer/director Lars von Trier’s latest “treat” for the cinema.

In a way, then, this should serve as both a review of Vol. II and a new review of Vol. I. While my opinion on the first volume hasn’t really changed, I at least have a stronger understanding now of what I feel about it.

So, with that in mind, let’s dissect what Trier has accomplished here.

Like I noted before, this is the second part of Trier’s look at a woman’s sexuality from a child to her near fifties. It is a rollercoaster ride of sex, romance and a lot in-between. It makes for an individually perverse and yet occasionally engaging film series.

My biggest problem with the last movie was that I believed it walked a very fine line between being sexual fantasy and character study. Whenever it was directly the later, it made for an interesting, if at times repetitive, film. When it was stepping into the former’s territory, though, it was as if the audience was sitting inside an overlong, extended porno.

This was something I had even more of a problem with in Vol. II. But, as it eventually wrapped itself up, I felt like Trier’s finally decided to showcase his overarching point. Which, it would seem, would be a feminists piece based on one’s own sexuality. Which I figured was the case, but it was never directly stated until the movie’s final flickering moments.

This movie provides its actors more availability to showcase their performances, even more so than in Vol. I. In particular, as the titular sex addict, Charlotte Gainsbourg gives a more subtlety versatile performance this time around. Especially as the weight of her sexuality becomes an even greater factor to her motivations in life and, therefore, the story.

The same can also be said of Stellan Skarsgard. His purpose in the film is much more centralized here, and it makes his scenes with Gainsbourg even weightier, especially considering that they are the best-written sections in both volumes.

Although this installment is much more decidedly dramatic and darker, there are still occasional segments of dry comedy spilled lightly throughout the film. This film is not quite as darkly humorous as the former film, but it does have its quiet moments of comic levity, and they are much more spread out than they were in the first movie.

Compared to his other movies—at least, those that I have seen—I don’t think Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II carries the same headiest that the director has given to the other movies on his resume. There are many times that the director seems to be trying to shock his audiences, but, without much of a point, these scenes always seem rather morally bankrupt.

They are well done, which is what ultimately makes these two films worth the time put into them, but compared to what he was trying to communicate creatively with his last two movies, Antichrist and Melancholia, Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II too often feels a bloated attempt for the filmmaker to try to push the audience’s sense of moral decency.

I guess he did this in Antichrist too. But, again, I feel like that movie had more of a purpose throughout. Speaking of which, there seems to be a little nod in this movie to that film here, but I can’t say that for certain. It may have just been a plot point similarity.

The biggest feather in Nymphomaniac Vol. II’s cap is that it is more entertaining than the past volume. That’s not so much to say that this is going to get audiences as excited as they would be in Captain America: The Winter Solider, but the stakes this time are much more realized and the plot has a stronger understanding of what it is trying to communicate to its audience.

If I had to choose, I would say that I preferred Vol. II a little more than I did Vol. I. Neither are perfect by any stretch of the imagination (I should also note, without getting into spoilers, that I found at least one part of this movie’s climax—narrative climax, that is—to be rather far-fetched and another example of the film’s attempt to push the envelope too much), but this movie seems to be more level-headed in what it wants to say.

In the end, I don’t plan to revisit this movie like I never plan to revisit any Trier movie—although, I have seen Melancholia twice, but not by choice. But I can at least somewhat understand and continue to respect Trier for what he was able to accomplish here.

It may be too stuffy and overlong for its own good. But it is still a well-crafted semi-feminist film with a strong lead performance, as always, from Gainsbourg. If anything, these movies are great at showcasing her talents like no other.

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