- Nymphomaniac: Vol. II (2013) movie review: Featuring plenty of nudity and kinky sex, Part 2 of Lars von Trier’s two-part psychological drama is both more provocative and more philosophical than its predecessor.
Nymphomaniac: Vol. II movie review: Lars von Trier’s more daring & more philosophical sequel to Vol. I elicits a whole gamut of emotions
Previously on Nymphomaniac: Vol. I…
Adult Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), beaten and unconscious, is found in a snow-covered alley by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), an unassuming fellow with a gentle demeanor who takes her to his apartment. In his austere dwelling, Joe recounts her adventures as a young nymphomaniac; each story is preceded by screenwriter-director Lars von Trier’s requisite thematic chapter headings and cinematic asides.
From her debut sexual experience with Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) to her adventures on a train, and on to her dramatic involvement with a married man, his kids, and his wife (Uma Thurman, in what might be the best 10 minutes of her career), the exploits of Young Joe (Stacy Martin) are captured in detail – including visual detail – which has been the talk of cinema.
And then suddenly the movie is over.
Those of us who do not require completion, particularly narrative completion, feel satisfied at the end of Nymphomaniac: Vol. I, as though we’ve experienced a complete thought, whether or not all questions have been answered. (The most obvious unanswered question being how Joe came to be, ass thoroughly kicked, in that alley in the first place.) Unsurprisingly, given that it’s really the second half of one film, Nymphomaniac: Vol. II answers that question – and a few others – which may satisfy those who do require some form of resolution.
In addition, Nymphomaniac: Vol. II does have more interesting things to say than its predecessor, while upping the ante on the provocative imagery and philosophical mind games. The whole thing is thoroughly deliberate, bringing about a gamut of emotions, both in the characters and in the audience.
Curious sexual path
In Nymphomaniac: Vol. II, Joe becomes a wife and young mother. This raises the stakes considerably for her, while forcing the audience to make “judgment” adjustments as well.
As Joe struggles with her sexual “deviations” – which are manifold – we struggle with Joe, judging her ever more harshly the further she strays from the accepted path laid out for a young woman, a young wife, a young mother. That inevitably leads us to judge ourselves for judging her, and nobody comes out looking good.
Joe’s sexual urges lead her down a number of curious paths, from the fetishistic to the culturally taboo; for instance, there is a sequence featuring a sexual encounter with two black African men that comes across as a nod to both. In this scene, Lars von Trier lingers in a meticulously framed shot that shows these two men – naked and in full erection – with Charlotte Gainsbourg, a definitely white woman, naked, and positioned between them, erection height. It’s particularly funny and its point is pointed.
Joe also becomes involved in a sadomasochistic “club” of sorts, where her meetings with the sadist involves the provision of her own riding crop, which he uses to her deep satisfaction and our great disturbance. The sadist is played with cool politeness by Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot fame. Billy is all grown up and kinda freaky.
All of this is not so much shocking as it is revealing, both of the players, however naked, and of we the audience. It’s who “we” are individually and as a society that Lars von Trier is questioning – notwithstanding a few personal issues involving his own family revelations referred to in our review of Nymphomaniac: Vol. I.
Theory vs. practice
Lastly, Nymphomaniac: Vol. II illuminates Stellan Skarsgård’s Seligman – Joe’s cloistered, intellectually informed but experientially bereft host.
Seligman’s philosophically salient commentary on Joe’s sexual experiences and on her judgment of herself regarding her sexuality are the result of one who has gained all their knowledge of worldly things through books rather than real-life practice. This Nymphomaniac: Vol. II plot point ends up being more relevant than all the sex, nudity, and deviance combined.
And then the movie is over. Yet somehow, I don’t think it is.
Nymphomaniac Vol. II (2013)
Direction & Screenplay: Lars von Trier.
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg. Stellan Skarsgård. Stacy Martin. Shia LaBeouf. Christian Slater.Jamie Bell. Uma Thurman. Willem Dafoe. Mia Goth. Jean-Marc Barr. Michael Pas. Sophie Kennedy Clark. Ananya Berg. Udo Kier. Caroline Goodall. Kate Ashfield. Papou. Kookie Ryan.
“Nymphomaniac: Vol. II (2013) Movie Review” endnotes
Papou, Kookie Ryan, and Charlotte Gainsbourg Nymphomaniac: Vol. II movie image: Magnolia Pictures.
“Nymphomaniac: Vol. II Movie Review: Provocative Sequel” last updated in January 2022.