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Nymphomaniac: Volume II – Review

March 13, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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Playful days of youth are over with Nymphomaniac: Volume II, which undergoes a tonal shift into darker motifs. Humour is sparse this time around, as Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) continues telling her story from where the first volume left off: her dysfunctional libido.

The narrative formula from the first part remains. Joe and Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) are still sitting in the same confined room and converse. Every once in a while, to further the story, Joe picks some item or image in the room for inspiration. This worked well in the first volume; in the second one it feels trite. Von Trier must have been aware of this, since the film makes a self-referential joke.

Given Nymphomaniac’s concept, it is no surprise that it attempts to cover everything imaginable in sex – open relationships, threesomes, interracial sex, S&M and paedophilia. Like with the film’s narrative formula, these ‘spotlights of sexuality’ are more forced and on-the-nose in Volume II. However, it does not mean they’re ineffective. On the contrary, Volume II brings us closer to Joe’s psyche and inner conflict with her condition, which is never clearer than with the chapter titled “The Eastern and the Western Church (The Silent Duck)”.

Cameos galore! Nymphomaniac: Volume II has several recognisable actors gracing the screen from Willem Dafoe’s mafioso kingpin to Jamie Bell’s impressively anguished sexual healer. The latter one delivers one of the most memorable and darkest sequences of the film, as his character whips Joe bloody so that she can feel.

Lars von Trier continues to play with ethics and morality, and the expectations and beliefs of our society. His points on sexuality are profound and merit a thought if nothing else.

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According to von Trier we all have different sexual desires and needs, which are uncontrollable. They are written into our genetics. Some may be into S&M like Jamie Bell’s character, some may be asexual, and some might prefer a person of their own sex. Given that, there must also be people who prefer children. For these people, whose desires are taboos or unacceptable by society, life must be challenging. Should they refrain from acting up on these wants and repress themselves indefinitely, or instead, are they to be commended for their strength and perseverance?

Nymphomaniac is undoubtedly a thrilling and entertaining ride but Volume II unfortunately concludes in an anti-climax. Despite its intended twist ending, which comes as disappointing and predictable, the finish manages to add more into von Trier’s overall social commentary.

As a whole, Nymphomaniac delivers. Volume II is clearly a weaker entry of the two, but not without its merits. Any fan of Lars von Trier should be delighted to see his 4-hour sex epic, as should the regular cinemagoer.

Nymphomaniac: Volume II is out in cinemas and on VOD

Sean Ryan