I have finally finished watching Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, having years before watched horrified his early film Breaking the Waves. All that I can remember feeling then was nausea, much the same feeling I associate with his film Dogville. But this present film is more self-conscious, more stylized. It taunts the viewer with its shifting view points. I could almost imagine that Charlotte Gainsbourg spoke her own words in response to Seligman’s scripted lines.
In my search to understand what I had seen, better yet felt from his films, I discovered that his film genera is drama films that have real life characters dealing with dramatic themes such as alcoholism, drug addiction, infidelity, moral dilemmas, racial prejudiced. religious intolerance, sexuality, poverty, class division, violence against woman and corruption. As would be writers, pick your theme if it hasn’t are ready picked you. In a grand art house way he has seemingly included all these themes into one movie.
By turns his main protagonist, the ultimate antihero, Joe, as played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, is put into conflict with herself, society and finally- man.
Her savior and guide into her past is Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), a stale pedantic whom actually levitates the story by way of his cultural allusions.
We sit down to watch the film, not at all knowing where we are being taken. Suspended belief is induced by the mesmerizing affect of the flash backs; we willingly allow the story to unfold because we find it beautiful. Switching forward, the most beautiful as well, the most horrifying scenes is the one in which the abandoned toddler awakens by the twisting lights of the snow plower cutting a swath through the snow bound streets, the boy following the lights and then becoming attuned to the falling snow. Emotionally we are tied to this scene because also a similar story was played out in Trier’s film the Antichrist. This latter is a visual example, but on the level of story telling what is more beautiful than her father leading the child through the woods while telling her mythological tree stories, not just any stories but a story that runs through the whole film. Such beauty is usually reserved for films by Terrence Malick.
If the film seems too much, as in what it has decided not to leave out, that is the very quality that uplifts the film. Truth can be uglified only when we try to reduce it to something more conventional. A good example would be what happened to a Block Buster Video version heavily edited of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. Astonished, even appalled, would venture to say deeply displeased because I sat with a friend whom I had told about the amazement of this film and what we saw was something stripped of its cottontail beauty which was partly brought to life by its shocking value. At the time, in the early 90’s, the only other film that had a similar shock value was Tarantino‘s Reservoir Dogs. Both came out the same year; both brought movies to a new art house level: spawning the independent film movement (I have no way to back up that latter claim, it’s maybe a hyperbolic causality of my gross leaps to impress without actuality doing my homework)
To write more I would have to first provide a spoiler alert, only read forward if you have concluded the film.
The ending is what actually redeems this film from being sentimental, preventing us from harping back to the idea of it being merely for entertainment; granted we were entertained. But actually we are witness to the culminating point where a Joe realizes whom she will be at the conclusion of her life; all this transpired through the telling her story along side Seligman whom peppers her story with insight; ultimately, the movie is a dialectic brought to a synthesis.
Which makes a demand on us viewers: we must read about his manifesto for a new cinematic movement which was called Dogme 95.
There is a quickening in Joe in that very last scene where she decides not to be ruled by her sexuality, making it a vow, her reason d’etre to be that one in a million whom succeed, that could only be endorse by a corresponding action.
His closing words, you whom have let a thousand men fuck you,
It is not to us to judge her actions, the movie itself is amoral . It will be Joe’s task to keep to her new coda. We sense another story evolving, now she is a murderer; to stop one thing we become something else.
Reading this crap I wrote, now hours old, well, it is what it is: a feeble attempt once again to aspire to write my thoughts. Not to be discourage though, write I will in spite of my too obvious flaws. What an art form to truly write, it is a good thing that us would be writer have this opportunity to shoot for something.
Which almost drives me to write more concerning my failure to convey what I wanted, to do so would require a re-write (which may or may not happen) Movie reviews are tough, no doubt as proven by my multiple attempts. In fact, reviews can seem easy on the surface, but how to really pull it off? That’s something I may never know.