Friday, 6 March 2015

Nymphomaniac (4 Stars)


Killing is the most natural thing in the world. We're created for it.

I bought "Nymphomaniac" on Blu-ray at the beginning of December. Now, after three months, I've finally got round to watching it. Why did I wait so long? The reason is that it's a long film, five and a half hours, and I wanted to wait until I had time to watch it in one sitting. As it was, I was interrupted today after three and a half hours by the verdict in the Jodi Arias murder trial. Maybe I should say non-verdict, since the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision, rendering the result a mistrial. The problem was that one of the jurors, Claudia Suchta, came into court in October 2014 with a pre-conceived notion about what she would decide, and was at no time willing to listen to the evidence or the opinions of the other jurors. Last week the other 11 jurors asked for her to be excluded from the deliberations, but the judge refused. The final result was the 11-1 hung jury that resulted today. After listening to the interviews and briefly taking part in the forums where trial watchers were venting their anger at Mrs. Suchta I returned to watch the last two hours of the film.


"Nymphomaniac" is divided into two parts, but the division is artificial, just as Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" is only one film, artificially divided because it was thought too long for a single cinema visit. When I saw "Nymphomaniac" in the cinema last year both parts were shown back to back as part of a special event, but it was shortened to four hours. The official reason was that the film's sex scenes were too explicit to be shown legally, but I believe that the running time was also a factor. Of course, I refused to buy the theatrical version when it was released on Blu-ray, I waited for the full version, incorrectly called the "director's cut". However, watching it again today I couldn't spot the extra 90 minutes that were missing in the version I saw last year. It's possible that the do-it-yourself kitchen abortion scene was missing from the short version, but I'm not sure, and even if it were it would only make a time difference of about 10-15 minutes.

The film begins and ends with darkness, two minutes at the beginning and one minute at the end. Within the film Seligman finds a woman injured in the alleyway outside his house and takes her home to clean her up. His name is symbolic. It means "holy man", and he does indeed live in a very bare room like a monk, even though he emphasises that he isn't religious. He doesn't have a television or a telephone in his house. The only evidence of modern technology is a cassette recorder, which he uses to listen to classical music, in particular Bach. The woman, who introduces herself as Joe, confesses to being a nymphomaniac, and she attempts to persuade Seligman that she is an evil person by telling him her life story in eight chapters.

  1. The Complete Angler
  2. Jerome
  3. Mrs. H
  4. Delirium
  5. The Little Organ School
  6. The Eastern and the Western Church
  7. The Mirror
  8. The Gun

Joe's whole life, ever since she was 12, has revolved around sex, and the film is appropriately explicit in the depiction of her life. It's difficult to think of her as evil, and Seligman too does all he can to defend her against her own accusations. The only thing I would really criticise her for is leaving her young child alone for hours when she went out to be beaten and whipped (chapter six). This was reprehensible, and she showed no remorse when her son almost died while left alone.


The film is set in England, as is obvious from the cars and the money used, but there are certain scenes that look foreign. The scenes have been called mistakes by some reviewers, but they are such obvious mistakes that I can't believe that the director Lars Van Trier didn't know what he was doing. For instance, when Joe walks out of the hospital where her father is dying (chapter four) the sign over the door says "Opgang", the Dutch word for "Recovery". The word is written so large, stretching almost all the way across the screen, so it couldn't possibly be a blunder. Could it? The train in chapter one is a German train. Throughout the film the outdoor scenes seem very un-English. For instance, the house windows have external shutters (typical for Holland) and the streets seem very continental.

"Nymphomaniac" created a lot of controversy for its depictions of sex. We repeatedly see close-ups of erect penises, something usually reserved for hardcore pornography. And yet it isn't a pornographic film, far from it. It's a philosophical film, as are all films directed by Lars Van Trier. If you watch it, when the film is over you won't be thinking about the sex scenes, you'll be thinking about God, the universe and the meaning of life.

I bought the Blu-ray from Germany, because it hasn't been released in England. Yet. The short version has been on sale since April last year, but the full version has been announced three times and cancelled each time. I suspect that there are classification arguments going on behind the scenes.

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