The Hypocrisy That Is Human
In the pursuit of film knowledge, I’ve watched many films. From the comedic element that is Rush Hour, to the grisly executions of Terrifier, films are synonymous with me, and I pride myself for being able to pinpoint their exact release-dates. Many people often say that cinema is subjective, meaning that something he likes, might not necessarily be something that she likes. Wherever you may be from, whatever language you may speak, film is always a way to bind people together, thanks in large to subtitles. They make people laugh, cry, scream, and stretch out all kinds of facial expressions possible. Without them, ideas become obsolete, since there is no dramatization of it, and therefore they become boring, no matter how important they may be. Throughout history, films have been used as a medium to concoct propaganda, in the nationalistic sense, or in the political sense, and the possibilities go on. Every few years, a film will come out to divide the fandom, causing so much controversy that nobody really knows what the straight answer to it is. The aesthetic reviewer will say that there is artistic beauty to behold in this daring work, a philosophical examination of the way things are. The no-nonsense critic will absolutely shred the attempt. But that is the beauty of subjectivity. It is hard to find a piece that can please everyone; no film is short of its negativity, and therefore, no film is realistically perfect.
Pink Flamingos got the boot due to its numerous perverse acts that are just beyond belief. Classified as a comedy film, it is disgusting and downright cruel. Hard pass. Borat is just as inappropriate. Everything about it screams insensitivity and misogyny and the anti-Semitic remarks did not sit well with the majority of its audience. Except for me. I suppose I found it alright. A Clockwork Orange gave local authorities chaos, after “inspiring” individuals to commit heinous crimes in an attempt to mimic the characters. Whether they are truly bad or not, it took guts to direct and show off these works of controversy, a trait that Lars von Trier seems to have a bountiful of.
He is the director of Antichrist, Melancholia and The House That Jack Built. A filmmaking career that has seen its fair share of controversy, and though his works wouldn’t bring him the same type of fame that someone like Christopher Nolan can boast, it is undeniable that Lars von Trier has a talent for this. His films haunt, but are also hauntingly beautiful in the way that they express philosophy. Directors are humans too, and so they are entitled to the freedom of expression just the same as taboo subjects have a right to be discussed. Nymphomaniac, a two-step process, is 2013’s porno that nobody anticipated. I digress. It’s not actually a porno, more of a documentary, telling the life story of Joe and her journey into nymphomania. I would normally call this “journey” a descent, but seeing that she embraces it the way Valerie does so in Diary of A Nymphomaniac, I guess it’s time to move on and accept that people like that exist. Out of all the films I’ve watched, Nymphomaniac is one of the most twisted asylums for a character to grow in, and for all its intelligence, it is also a diagnosis of another one of those mental disorders. Gone are the days where characters suffered from depression or schizophrenia. There is a new way to derange the human mind, and while said film is unrelenting in its approach, it shines light on a very relatable topic, at least for horny 16-year-olds.
The film opens with a middle-aged man, unmarried, tending to a downtrodden woman. Lying in the rain, all battered and bloodied, is Joe. Her eyes are soulless, as if she just had her heart ripped out, her world shattered. But of course, this is a woman in a terrible state of affairs, clearly in need of a hug or two, long ago. She wants neither the ambulance called, nor the police involved, all she wants is someone to listen.
And some snacks.
As Joe recounts her “journey” to the alley near Seligman’s home, what was originally designed to be a request for comprehensive penetration unfolds into a tragic refrain.
Fill all my holes.
Haha. Laugh it up. These are the words of madness that a younger Joe purrs to one of her lucky men shown in Nymphomaniac’s marathon opus of turpitude. Her stories carry an obvious triple X directive, her brusque commandments aren’t a turn-on so much as a desperate plea for fulfillment, or cavity-filling. Sex is necessary. It comes as naturally as breathing, and without it, Joe suffers from an incurable feeling of emptiness, literally. Alongside Seligman, we listen. For a person this objectively pretty, you would think that men would lining up to get a shot with her. And yet loneliness plagues and accompanies her. Nymphomaniac is not just a film about one woman, although she is the titular character of Lars von Trier’s exploration. Libido is libido — Joe is nymphomania.
I’m just a bad human being.
The intrigue is there. Joe takes the blame for the pitiable situation that she is in, then quickly shifts the spotlight to Seligman, asking why he has a bunch of fishing flies set up on the wall. The gracious host turns out to be a man of taste and knowledge. His mind harbours an anthology of random factoids about everything under the sun. From fishing to history to philosophy, he seems to take pleasure in drawing parallels from Joe’s stories, underlining some kind of deep meaning behind her previous events.
Chapter 1: The Compleat Angler
The first dive into Joe’s story takes us into her days as a child to a teenager. She reveals the time she lost her V card at the age of 15 to a douchey guy named Jerome, not in a proud or shameful way. Not in any way. Just stating. It was truly a lackluster way to have sex for the first time though, since the guy was practically forced into it by a plaid-and-cardigan Joe. Smirkingly, he gratifies the command with eight wholesome thrusts, which von Trier paints onscreen as “3+5”. He takes no prisoners in his explorations, and thus the two distinct numbers. Five chapters in the first volume, then three in the second. In Kabbalistic tradition, eight refers to the sum of “7+1”. Seven represents perfection, whereas eight transcends the aforementioned perfection. Kinky.
She swears herself into celibacy after the “3+5” incident, then promptly goes around reeling in men on a train. However the hell an ordinary bag of chocolates can come to be a symbol of sexual conquest, I have no idea. It acts as an incentive for B and Joe (BJ. Haha) to lure their prey into biting the hook like a skilled fisherman. Of course, it’s the first of Seligman’s interruptions, where he likens the enticements to “reading the river”.
BJ (Okay I’ll stop) start their mini version of Fight Club, to inspire fellow girls to rebel against the notion of love by virtue of casual sex, as frequently as possible. Their motto? Mea maxima vulva. By announcing their grievous faults, the girls denounce centuries of Catholic teachings, until B decides to get herself romantically attached. The connotation of sin, is altered by Joe to fall in love, succumbing to societal expectations of women. The film comes under a lot of fire for its eyebrow-raising portrayal of female protagonists, yet if the director was a woman herself, Nymphomaniac could be seen as a film about feminism, just in smaller doses of sex scenes. Joe is disgusted by B’s betrayal and leaves her credo. She doesn’t have time for weak women.
Chapter 2: Jerome
By the time the fifth sex partner rolls into the story, most of the audience have already gotten the point. We get it, you crave sex. While most directors would concentrate on the pornographic money shots of the gorgeous Stacy Martin, von Trier focuses on the structure. He asks the why, instead of the what. Characters are more than just flesh and bone, indifference and passion; they are like organs of a greater picture, perceived and analyzed, because humans are complex creatures that require more than an actor’s playbook to recreate. His films have a reputation for being uncomfortable, but it is always interesting to watch the worst realities manifest within his fictional characters. After all, they’re not really all that fictional, are they?
Love is just lust with jealousy added.
Now a lonewolf, Joe has really matured since the days of her sorority. Her voracious appetite has exponentialized into seven to ten daily servings, bragged to us through various PowerPoint offerings. Triplets.
It is obvious that von Trier enjoys using split-screens to convey events not necessarily happening simultaneously. There is a polyphonic intersection between his cinematic tricks, so we understand the context better.
Still, no matter how hard Joe tries to run away from her fate, love eventually catches up to her, in the form of a workplace romance. Jerome makes his long-awaited re-entry into her world, this time as her caretaker boss. It’s been a long time since “3+5”, and now that she is a grown woman, Joe intelligently keeps her distance. Jerome is engaged. Despite her rigid adherence to emotional detachment, there is always the odd man to make things awkward. In the eyes of the cynical nymphomaniac/heroine, these acts of terrorism do nothing save chip away inefficiently at her armoured defences. To further consolidate this point, a cavalcade of male genitalia blot out the screen, proving that Joe has so many side dishes that she struggles to keep them straight. All that matters is that they’re fucking her. With the help of a dice, she decides how she wishes to proceed with their courtships via phone.
And why should she care about these men? The world is a cruel place to be in, propitious to only what society deems as “normal”, and unyielding to horny women. To say that she engages in sexual activity up to ten times daily, feels slightly exaggerated, much like the aggrandized and avant-garde film that is Nymphomaniac, which propels it into allegorical territory.
Chapter 3: Mrs. H
After all, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
One of the men becomes so infatuated with Joe that he gives up his wife and children to be with Joe. It serves as a warning that love eventually transforms into either more lust or hate. Mrs. H, the cheated wife, decides to confront her usurper, aided by her three sons. In her lukewarm hostility, Mrs. H introduces her sons to an IKEA exhibition of the “whoring” furniture, before devolving her agony unto everyone. She finally predicts Joe’s bleak future; a future that is lonely. It’s true. Joe struggles all film long with company, because nobody can keep up with her, not when she actively pushes them away. It’s just like the operation she had during her childhood.
It was as if I had to pass through an impenetrable gate all by myself. It was as if I was completely alone in the universe, as if my whole body was filled with loneliness and tears.
Put aside the nymphomania, Joe suffers from an irremediable sense of incompletion. No matter how much intercourse she gets, the heroine treads lightly around emotional transactions. No matter the copious amounts of physical intimacy, her heart is buried and irreclaimable.
Chapter 4: Delirium
Unfortunately, her father takes ill. The strange thing is not the violent way that he passes away — Joe is aroused by this. Weird. Notwithstanding the fact that this is devastating for a daughter to experience, this is also some form of emancipation for her. He is a good father, don’t misunderstand. Through him, Joe was given a relatively decent childhood, nothing that Freud can poke around. She shares his fascination with trees, the mighty titans of Earth that provide shelter for her against the ugly emotional elements.
Slowly but surely, she is losing the people she is closest to.
Chapter 5: The Little Organ School
No if there’s already a tape in the machine, I’d like to hear that.
Seligman is an avid subscriber of Classic FM, and he plays a chorale prelude for Joe. He describes Bach’s perfection of the melodic expression and harmony, revealing some interesting coincidences regarding numbers along the way. The variables, like the voices in a chorus, are specific, but form a complete harmony together. A European phenomenon known as “polyphony”.
The film is beautiful for, yes, its cinematography and directing. No one can debate that. There is an inherently boujee feel to talking about Fibonacci numbers relating them to the sexcapades. Apart from philosophy, religious, musical, linguistic, and moral topics are put up for questioning, similar to any other von Trier film. Sometimes, Joe and Seligman sound like more than just TED-talkers sharing past experiences. Nymphomaniac is a conversation between director and audience, one trying to start the intellectual juices flowing and the latter (hopefully) interpreting it.
Joe somehow bumps into a recently-single Jerome once again, the hellbringer of love and gooey romance to her life. He has redeemed himself, a better lover now than he was when she was 15. The chemistry is apparent, while he jams his tongue and rams his cock into her. You are slightly hesitant about McDoofus’ return, although you are also glad that Joe finds happiness in her initial squeeze.
That is, until her vagina goes numb.
Some researchers conclude that vaginas that’ve lost feeling is largely due to a product of social conditioning meant to disparage feminine sexuality. Whether or not the myth of rape culture is true or not, it always feels like the female is in danger. Traumatic events can cause dissociation from sexuality, on both the masculine and feminine front, though the pelvic floor is where power resides. It is the mitochondria of pleasure. The question begs, what was traumatic for Joe? She isn’t a victim of rape, nor any kind of assault.
Now deprived of her sexual pleasures, from the tool that she was once proud of, Joe looks in the mirror and sees a statuette a shadow of its former self. There is nothing better than seeing a woman empowered, without the need for a man to justify her. There is, then, nothing worse than watching a woman deprived of the things she needs, because they may sell dildos, but something tells me that Joe prefers an actual penis.
The first volume of Nymphomaniac ends in desolation. Joe makes a big deal about not falling for the men, about not feeling anything for them. She got her wish; she’s arrived at a T-junction that leads her nowhere. Left turn, back into the bottomless pit of nonstop grinding and thrusting, the sex evidently routine, but sadly banal. Society frowns unfairly towards highly sexual women, but when do we draw the line and say “girl, that’s too much!”? I imagine Joe lying in a pool of sweat, counting down the minutes till the next guy arrives while the guy right now is tightening his belt at her bedside. I cannot speak on behalf of all women, and nevertheless, this loneliness is the epicentre of emptiness haunting humanity. I mentioned earlier that von Trier’s works are hauntingly beautiful, because they tell a very blunt story. There is nothing erotic about Nymphomaniac. Believe me, Fifty Shades of Grey does a better job at turning people on than this fuckfest, when all Joe is left with is a glaring hole the circumference of a shotgun shell. Right turn, our heroine chooses love. Let’s break the cycle by entering another cycle. Look where that leaves her, vagina-less. She should’ve turned the steering wheel counterclockwise towards the highway.
Chapter 6: The Eastern & Western Church
Fill all my holes.
What I can say on behalf of all men, is that we love sex. There is nothing hornier than a boy who discovers what comes after “por-” in the searchbar. Jerome is exhausted after all the sex, and exasperated that Joe keeps badgering him into more. His pee pee literally cannot. It’s every guy’s dream growing up; to have a girlfriend that craves sex more than he does, except this is a film about the girlfriend.
She continues writhing, grabbing the lifeless dildo and failing to make it work its magic. It’s not his fault. Occasional hedonisms can only do so much to make up for what is lacking, and once these temporary jollies are lost, the barebones are presented like exposed carcasses. The sensations have shut down.
The introduction of their son might be the answer for Joe and Jerome. No it isn’t. It is, however, a tribute to the late French writer Marcel Proust from whom von Trier drew inspiration. “À la recherche du temps perdu” parallels a lot with the film, discussing sex with an open outlook.
There was a world far from mine I had to explore, and there, or perhaps on the other side, I could get my life back.
Jerome feels negligent for his partner’s compounded sexual languor, and realizes that he cannot fulfill Joe’s carnal needs. So, he proposes that Joe seeks another form of remedy, rather than stagnate their relationship, by steering back onto the highway. She gets an appointment with two very hung African males, describing not understanding their foreign language as a turn-on. It would appear that penetrative sex no longer does the trick for her.
The two Churches, Eastern and Western, represent the Church of Joy and the Church of Suffering respectively. A road trip from Western Europe to its Eastern front, signifies a shift from tormented guilt to bliss. Joe is given a dose of the Anastasia Steele treatment, and discovers that pain and pleasure are more related than ever.
Joe follows her tradition in naming significant characters by letters. K, is the latest guy to enter the story and impact her, physically. The oxymoron of BDSM to the ones familiar with it, is that the submissive is actually in charge. Unless there’s some shady stuff going on in the background, the submissives hold the right to enter these fascinating relationships and set out ground rules. Clauses if you might. Think of the scene from Fifty Shades Freed, on the yacht, where Christian asks Anastasia if she remembers her “safe word”. It seems silly that a word can dictate the actions of the Dominant, forcing them to immediately halt their onslaughts on the body. Joe is not given this right. Under the spotlight of whips and lashes and a very curt K, Joe regains her sensations and orgasm. Pain is what returns pleasure to her, after she utterly surrenders herself to the wanton-whips. It is unsettling to watch a woman choose her appetite over her wellbeing, so great even that she cares naught for her son, to fulfill her own selfish desires. It is selfish and irresponsible, whichever way you look at it. After all this time, the highway has crescendoed to the summit of nymphomania, infesting every passing day, as a woman, and as a mother. It might be an exaggeration to say that Joe cares naught about Marcel, but as far as addiction goes, she really cannot do a worse job than she currently is. Nymphomania governs every single cell in her body, much like drug addicts violently squirming from withdrawal. The role of mother and man’s partner is anti-Joe, and in watching a toddler Marcel almost plummet to death from the window (clear tribute to von Trier’s Antichrist), that is the nail in the coffin for a jaundiced addict.
She loses Jerome and Marcel, then resorts to her coping mechanism: K.
Chapter 7: The Mirror
Her romantic relationship now in tatters, Joe seeks employment. What interferes with her work? You guessed it, sex. Her boss sends her to a support group for like-minded women.
Inside the boundaries of a mirror, is a reflection of yourself. You may think that an exact replica is what awaits you, but the painful truth is, even though you are mirrored, the replica will always be a flawed version of yourself. Just ask any girl who spends too long staring in the mirror, searching for nonexistent imperfections.
The support group does nothing to cure her ailment, which goes to show how entrenched she is in her sexual philosophy. The mirror presented before her simply reaffirms her wants, giving reason to stand up tall and proud against the patriarchal “sex addicts”.
I‘m not like you, who fucks to be validated and might just as well give up putting cocks inside you. And I’m not like you. All you want is to be filled up, and whether it’s by a man or by tons of disgusting slop makes no difference. And I’m definitely not like you. That empathy you claim is a lie, because all you are is society’s morality police, whose duty is to erase my obscenity from the surface of the earth so that the bourgeoisie won’t feel sick. I’m not like you. I am a nymphomaniac, and I love myself for being one. But above all, I love my cunt and my filthy, dirty lust.
While she does make a good point about being confident in oneself, it doesn’t diminish the fact that this mental disorder has caused more harm than good to her. Ahem, are we forgetting that she’s a terrible mother?
Chapter 8: The Gun
Unemployed again, she meets a loan shark. Now I won’t get into the legality of this, but given her pragmatic expertise of sexuality, it ensures obedience from the scared-stiff (lmao) men. These sexualities are usually transgressions; shoutout to the bald pedophile guy. Then, she meets the last jigsaw puzzle piece to lead her to that dark alley where Seligman finds her. P comes from a rough childhood. Criminal parents are one thing, though she appears to have anger issues no amount of teenage drama can rival. They get romantically involved (don’t worry P is legal), until Joe makes a startling discovery. P and Jerome (PJ), somehow get together while P is on assignment against Jerome, and in a spite of anger, she confronts them in that alley. It fails, since she forgets to cock the gun. Jerome beats her up, then engages in intercourse with P in front of Joe. “3+5” makes its grand return. Oh, and P pees on Joe.
Fast-forward back to Joe and Seligman in the small, dilapidated room. The long discourse finally ends and he lets her sleep. Out of nowhere in the dark, Seligman pulls up next to her and tries to rape her. The ending is abrupt. Joe grabs the gun meant for Jerome, and shoots Seligman. Credits roll.
Another controversial film reminiscent of this film, is Last Tango In Paris, bearing a similar ending. The young woman shoots the older man, only this time, he’s already raped her. Ending a long and intense film with a sudden killing that appears to have no motive behind it leaves us with the impression that von Trier sees the world as a meaningless place inhabited by human beings driven and enslaved to sex and violence.
What do you get when you put a somatically abandoned woman and an asexual encyclopaedia in the same room together? Strip away the holier-than-thou lordings from Seligman, Nymphomaniac tells the fierce story of a woman facing castration for what she wants. As a whole, it’s interesting to correspond Joe’s behaviour with the answers that make Earth rotate on its axis. Flyfishing. Music. Religion.
All the rough pornographic flashback scenes are platforms meant to elevate Seligman’s foods for thought, quite “woke” and definitely digressive. I personally think that Lars von Trier dedicates this film to Marcel Proust, considering the special attention given towards sexuality. Seligman is clearly the culturati and the epitome of film critics searching for deeper meanings. Blockbuster films do this all the time. Admittedly, the digressions can be accurate, but to what extent will Seligman go to ensure this? The times when his “intellectual” points aren’t effective, show nothing more than a method of projecting. We see a beaten up Joe from Seligman’s perspective, meaning that anything she says, shall thereby be reinscribed as his own. It’s interpretation, but not empathy. Why not just bring Freud over and let her free-associate?
Broken and betrayed, Joe may have reached the climax of her nymphomania long ago, but the version of her in the alley has now reached the height of loneliness. She has lost her father to sickness, Jerome (and Marcel) to addiction, and her lesbian lover P, to Jerome. Leafing through the numerous files of her ignominious sex quests, you first shake your head at just how incredulous her journey has been, then realize the transparency of her pathos.
Fill all my holes, please!
Lars von Trier has a running rap sheet for all the male characters he paints to be absolute fools. Dogville, Antichrist and Melancholia all depict goody-two-shoes men as rational and righteous angels, only to conclude by attempting to hegemonize their patients. Women.
The greatest theme to discuss in today’s society is hypocrisy. We are all good at nitpicking the worst in each other, and Joe agrees wholeheartedly upon summing up our species with that word. Across from each other, are two people so absurdly polar that there could realistically be no empathy. Whilst I can sit and jeer Joe for everything, I see an admirable quality about her. She announces it to the world without a shred of doubt, defiant that she is indeed a nymphomaniac and takes pride in her descriptive cunt. This statuette, that has brought misery, has also brought her an infinite supply of gratification, and will continue to do so. She doesn’t try to be a good person by conventional standards, but she never negates her nature. However, Seligman is brought up to be the biggest hypocrite in the entire film with his crude words at the end, right after giving a half hearted speech about female empowerment and fighting back.
You’ve fucked thousands of men.
Even at the end of this review, you must’ve read some difficult vocabulary when simpler synonyms could have replaced them. The beauty of film is also its downfall into hypocrisy. No film is realistically perfect. No one is perfect, so when will we stop pretending that we are? Seligman is the pessimistic affirmation that in a world so twisted, filled with crime and corruption, on the governmental level and for us mortals, we can only hope to ascend into the heavens by tearing apart angels’ wings.