Nymphomaniac Vol. 1Friday, April 11, 2014
The last time we met Lars von Trier, the earth was being smashed by a rogue planet. Then before that, in Antichrist, Wilem Defoe was having his testicles smashed and Charlotte Gainsbourg was cutting off her clitoris. Time to put the children to bed, because we have the final part of the ‘depression’ trilogy - Nymphomaniac, where it’s Charlotte Gainsbourg’s turn to get smashed, this time by hundreds of penises, one of which happens to belong to Shia LaFuckingBeouf. Yep, that’s right, Shia LaFuckingBeouf; the weasley, barely sentient kid from Transformers. Thankfully, contrary to his terrifying promises when the film was cast, we don’t get to see his penis, but we do get to see a porn star have their penis grafted onto his crotch via the wonders of CGI. Ah, what a great job for the tech wizards. ‘What did you do today, darling?’ ‘I’m working on Nymphomaniac, the new von Trier film.’ ‘Oh, that’s exciting!’ ‘Yeah, I’m pasting a porn star’s erect penis onto Shia LeBeouf’s crotch as he has simulated sex.’ ‘Oh...’ So yeah, it’s little weird having the kid from Transformers fool around with a girl and then have von Trier suddenly cut to a very artistic shot between LaBeouf’s legs where you can see his massive stunt penis have full penetrative sex. And now as you shift uncomfortably in your seat and try and change the subject, you ask me how his acting is. Has he matured into a fine thespian? Like fuck he has. His acting is immature and unconvincing and his attempt to perfect an English accent is gut-wrenchingly embarrassing. For half a second it sounds okay, then it sounds fucking awful and then it sounds like he’s swallowed an Australian. It’s one of the worst vocal performances I’ve heard. Just either cast an Englishman in the role or have him speak in his normal voice. Make up some bullshit reason for why an American is living in the UK. LaBeouf’s undetermined age doesn’t lend him any credibility either. We first see him as a teenager and then we see him as an adult. Funny thing is, though, that as a ‘teenager’ he doesn’t look any different to when he’s an adult. LaBeouf is one of those unfortunate people who looks like he could be aged anywhere between 12 and 35. It’s hard to take him seriously as either a teen or adult. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard don’t fare much better. Gainsbourg mumbles morosely into a cup of coffee and Skarsgard comes across as a pretentious simpleton. Yes, that is a contradiction but von Trier somehow manages to achieve it. While Gainsbourg is recounting her experiences as a teenager where she fucked an entire train-load of men, Skarsgard is comparing it to angling and talking about Fibonacci numbers. It’s Iike von Trier has made a fuck-happy Forest Gump. But the wraparound story of a sex-obsessed individual recounting their exploits to an avid listener reminds me of Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon. In that film, Peter Coyote tells his story to a salivating Hugh Grant. But while Bitter Moon is joyfully trashy, Nymphomaniac is po-faced. It somehow manages to make sex seem like the most depressing thing in the world. It also doesn’t have the emotion and tragedy of Bitter Moon (at least not in this first part). At heart, Bitter Moon is a deeply sad film. Nymphomaniac, meanwhile, is half joke, half depressed rant. It also suffers from a man’s deluded idea of female sexuality. There’s a scene where two girls, one of which is our ‘heroine’ Joe, are going through a train, trying to fuck as many men as possible. It’s a competition between the two women. Whoever fucks the most guys, ‘wins’. It’s something that only a man would come up with. Sport fucking. Fucking like it’s a match between Liverpool and Manchester United. While the portrait of female sexuality is misjudged and adolescent, the portrait of male sexuality is just depressing. None of the men have any willpower. None of them are able to control their impulses. One man, who’s travelling back on the train to see his wife, is powerless to stop our heroine from giving him an earth-shattering blow-job. Everyone here is just giving in to their most basic instincts. Perhaps the only ‘normal’ character is Joe’s father. A seemingly ordinary, decent man, he shares a love of nature with his daughter and is attentive and kind. But even here you can kind of sense that something is off. At one point he catches his daughter looking at book of female anatomy - she’s looking at the clitoris. Her father smiles but doesn’t say anything. While nothing overt happens, their relationship feels a little incestuous. But this is perhaps the most believable part of the film. This feels like a genuine human relationship. Joe even lets her father repeat stories she’s already heard many times before just to make him feel better. There’s love there. And this is maybe why Joe engages in joyless sex. She wants to make men happy. She needs their attention. One of the most plausible sequences in the film is when Joe sleeps around in her father’s hospital. In order to escape the pain of her father’s demise, she repeatedly fucks a hospital employee. But while this feels convincing, von Trier has to be his puckish self and include a saucy detail once Joe’s father dies. Joe becomes aroused and we see a dribble drip down the inside of her leg. But this is how fucked up this film is. The star performer in this movie is Christian Slater! The guy who was Uwe Boll’s muse in Alone in the Dark and who began turning up in direct-to-video clag like Hollow Man 2. He’s miles better than Skarsgard and Gainsbourg. Miles better. It kind of blows my mind. With her father dead, Joe decides to pursue Jerome (Shia LaFuckingBeouf). He’s an absolutely worthless humanoid - a vain, greasy, arrogant nincompoop. Why any woman would desire this individual, I don’t know. But sex addicts rarely make sound decisions, so I shouldn’t be surprised that Joe would seek attention from him. Regardless, it’s difficult to watch these scenes because the acting is so damn wretched. And the ending of the film, with Joe crying, ‘I can’t feel anything’ lands with a dull thud. Did you ever feel anything, Joe? Did you really?