Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac: Volume One” had presented a number of problems, including an episodic structure and a lack of material to justify such a long feature, with hopes that the second part of his opus would rectify these issues, or at least justify the four hours that he’s asked audiences to invest in it. Unfortunately, as we drift into “Nymphomaniac: Volume Two,” we find that things have not changed very much. In fact, they become even worse, with the prevalent problems of before merely becoming compounded.
This half of the tale finds Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) continuing to tell her story of sex addiction to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). At this point, she has lost feeling in her private area, which eventually leads her partner, Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), to suggest that she try having sex with other men. She tries this for a while, which eventually brings her to a particular man (Jamie Bell) who is into some very strange behaviors. After this episode of her life, she finds herself working for a shady collection agency run by L (Willem Dafoe). L believes that she’s doing a very good job, but that she should start to think about who will eventually replace her, leading her to a young girl (Mia Goth) who becomes her protégé. As their relationship continues to grow, Joe must continue to deal with the consequences of her addiction while also trying to cope with the difficult task of remaining abstinent.
As with the previous installment, “Volume Two” is split up into individual chapters that focus on different areas of Joe’s life, and just like before, we quickly come to realize that these aren’t adding up to much of anything. Whereas in the first film it at least felt like there was some semblance of a story going on, this time it feels as though there is no relationship between the different episodes at all. We bounce from Joe trying out other men to her masochistic activities to her working for a collection agency and nurturing a young girl whose parents are both criminals.
All the while, the story is continually interrupted so that Seligman can get a word in, comparing certain events in Joe’s life to religion, music, and other various things. Looking back on Von Trier’s tale as a whole, it is very likely that it would have worked better overall without the “present day” section crammed into it, as all it does is make it feel as though the story stops and starts over and over again, which, as you can imagine, gets rather annoying after a while. This is particularly true because these portions of the film don’t add anything to the overall narrative. Seligman does try to tie everything together with a little speech at the end, but it’s nothing that the audience couldn’t have figured out for themselves.
In fact, this would have gone a long way towards not only making the narrative much less jarring by preventing it from having to switch back and forth, but it also would have helped bring the bloated runtime down considerably, perhaps even allowing it to be just one film running at a little over two hours. There is no guarantee that it would have been a better film if this had been done (it’s not clear whether it could have been salvaged at all), but rather that it would have at least flowed better with less distractions to Joe’s story.
The feeling one gets overall with “Nymphomaniac” is that Lars von Trier had a series of ideas for stories about sex and was merely looking for a way to tie them all together, no matter how loose that tie may be. What he ended up with is exactly what he started out with: several small stories that don’t really go together or add up to anything when combined. To make matters worse, he throws in an ending that clearly shows that he had no idea how to conclude his tale, resorting to a finale that comes completely out of left field and doesn’t fit with what we’ve seen at all. It’s as though he threw his hands in the air and then wrote down the first random thing that came to mind.
Then again, you could easily describe this entire project in a similar fashion. Whatever Von Trier was trying to get at, whatever point he was trying to make, gets completely lost because every episode feels like a random happening in Joe’s life. This is not only detrimental to the story he’s trying to tell, but also to the audience’s patience, who, as noted, are asked to endure four hours of this tale. Perhaps the other reason the film was split up, aside from allowing a break in between, was to give those who weren’t getting anything from the experience the chance to save themselves from the other half. For future screenings and releases of the film, it would be wise to add a small disclaimer after the first film. Something short and as simple as “No, it doesn’t get any better.” 1.5/4 stars.
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