Nymphomaniac: Vol I
Directed by: Lars von Trier Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgaard, Running Time: 1 hr 58 mins Rating: NC-17 Release Date: March 21, 2014 (Chicago)
PLOT: The story of one woman's life (Martin & Gainsbourg) and her relationship with sex.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you think you're ready for it, you probably aren't.
Few filmmakers toil in the darkness as romantically as Lars von Trier, one of the last few directors who makes films to be seen in the dark of theaters, as part of an entirely submissive experience. With his previous film Melancholia, he used the magnitude of the silver screen and the shattering climax of Wagner to create a catastrophic movie about a woman's depression that parallel's the world's end. With his newest film, which is only half of an entire anthology of a woman's life, von Trier continues that effectiveness by taking his dark room audience into a full life of despair. Its effect comparable to how Melancholia completely hollows out its viewers, Nymphomaniac: Vol I is a devastating plunge into darkness, but one with its own beauty. It is a film that consumes its viewer, wielding its romance for despair as one of its most devastating tools.
Standing as an extremely sexual experience that does not channel the comfort of pornography, Nymphomaniac: Vol I is a film motivated by von Trier's undying passion for despair. It is assembled with the same quirkiness of a Wes Anderson movie, as von Trier too uses different chapter segments, quirky subject diversions, and even different aspect ratios to create an experience that is entirely cinematic, and all from a specific vision.
More vividly than any type of film that can be immediately recalled, Nymphomaniac: Vol I provides a full anthology of a fictional being's life. By means of showing specific sequences and cluing the audience with various montages, it provides such a dimensional image without the explanation of its running time. Even if Nymphomaniac: Vol 1 were meant to be 500 hours long, this film (or at least this half of the two parts) feels like the correct consolidation.
This vivid being is brought to life half by von Trier's vision, but with the stunning work of newcomer Stacy Martin. Martin encapsulates the entire experience of Nymphomaniac: Vol I. She is a being from a whole different level of acting intensity, and one who captivates the audience then pushes them past regular comfort, even for the topic of sex. In this incredible performance, Martin shows as vividly as the marks on Gainsbourg's face the hollowness that comes from such despair, beginning at a sense of vulnerability and then ending (in this first half) at a point of desperate submissiveness. With Martin fully in tune with the attitude of von Trier that nothing should be prevented (all intercourse scenes are performed by doubles, as stated in the end credits) she is essential in creating such a monumental film. And as well, her facial expressions, vacuous in moments of pleasure, strip this movie of its immediate eroticism, making Nymphomaniac: Vol I far more than a very naked film about sexuality.
The sense of precision that makes Nymphomaniac Vol I such a strong experience expands to various performances. Not just in the amount of time that is provided for actors, casting. Uma Thurman provides the movie some searing dark humor as a neglected wife who is effected by Joe's prowess. Shia LaBeouf, who does well with a role that seem to set him free (he's naked here AND has a British accent), is a compelling being in Joe's world, with his own sense of power within his pretentiousness. Even Christian Slater, playing the father of Joe, creates a vulnerability within her by appearing in only a handful of scenes, and remains within the movie a striking whimsical force. Gainsbough & Skarsgaard expand the consciousness of this movie beyond easy metaphors, and create a universal connection between the small things in life (fly fishing, cake forks) and sex.
All this considered, Nymphomaniac Vol. I is indeed half of a movie. But for now, it is half of what could certainly become a contemporary classic.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10