Von Trier’s examination on the darker side of human sexuality in ‘Antichrist’ shocked the audience. That marked the first installment of his ‘Depression’ Trilogy. With “Nymphomaniac” (2014) he delves still deeper in his exploration. Perception of cinema is purely subjective. The way an art is perceived is based on the perspective of viewing it. With this film, one might either end up celebrating it or trash it; nothing in between.
The structure of the film resembles a novel, like Antichrist, where the viewer is invited to ‘see’ the novel visually with the narrator’s voice over, throughout. Mr.Seligman on his way home finds a women on streets, obviously been assaulted .He takes her home. In reply to a casual inquiry, she offers him to tell her story, if he has the patience to listen, which he claims to have aplenty.
She identifies herself as Joe and calls her a nymphomaniac. Through her narration, alongside Seligman the audiences get a firsthand account of the life of a sex addict in her own words. Initially she begins her story in the tone of a confession. She presents herself to be a woman completely unforgivable. Her narration paints herself as nothing more than a lustful vamp with unquenchable thirst or a man hunter.
Seligman, the listener of the story, is one of the most interesting ensembles in the film and his counter explanations and points of view take the film to the next levels. In a single room, the nymphomaniac narrator tells her story to a man who connects with sex & sexuality only as a subject. This polarity in the character trait engages the viewer.
Joe derives the title of every chapter from things she finds around her in Seligman’s room, which though appears to be innovative, also gives room for doubting the authentication of story. A viewer might interpret this very well as a fabricated story narrated by Joe, whose intention might rest on musing the listener, Seligman. Besides Jerome, she never renders any name to other men in her life, who may all be fictitious. But what purpose does Joe have in degrading herself before a man she met for the first time?
For every episode Joe narrates of her sex life, Seligman interprets quotes on something that is totally disconnected from sex. After a point, his verbal responses turn out to be a discourse on some subject, though not too long and interest the viewer to some extent. Likewise from Seligman’s explanation of a polyphonic music, Joe connects 3 types of men she met, in comparison to it. What does this ideological exchange or comparisons between the lead characters of the story mean? Since it is undeniably Von Trier who speaks through Seligman what does this convey?
Is he trying to interlink such disconnected topics with sexuality to infer everything in our life centers around sexuality & establish sex as the crux of human life?
The character Joe on whom the entire story is woven is not very well defined. Through her narration, Trier only tries to establish her as a born nymphomaniac. Through the film is good 4 hours long no other trait of the central character has been explored even to the slightest. Joe as a character seems so void inside. Neither the film stamps Joe plainly as person with serious psychological disorder or being abnormal that might’ve elicited the viewer’s pity for her nor does it complain of her erotic obsessions. The screenplay instead of talking a stand on either of the aforementioned sides simply follows her unfolding story like a mute spectator. Seligman’s replies seem to be completely a counter-argument in a defending tone.
Despite the fact the Joe’s characterization is too alienated from the characters we’ve witnessed on screen, as it showcases the story of a nymphomaniac, the gender reference comes prominent. In that case the work has to take sides. Here is where the work remains as a mixed bag. Though basically it remains as the story of a female, driven by her insatiable lust, it doesn’t hail men. To be precise all men in the film are dump, in capacious to dominate and invariably falling for even the slightest flirt of this woman. Yet nowhere in the film has Seligman admitted her to have done an unforgivable sin.
After listening to the story, Seligman consolidates his opinion in the penultimate scene, through which Von Trier tries to render the touch of a feminist cinema but fails. The movie could very well have voiced feminism if ever he had concentrated in telling the story of his central character with carefully conceived visuals. With the visuals that fill this four hour movie I guess Trier has only registered his disapproval of film censorship.