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Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1: How Shia got his groove back

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Nymphomaniac vol. 1

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Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland

Markus Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Just a disclaimer before I began: As you can probably tell by the title, I was not able to see this film in its intended format; and I’m not talking about watching it on television verses up on the big screen. Writer/director Lars von Trier had always planned for “Nymphomaniac: Volumes 1 & 2” to be shown as a single four hour plus film. But in the United States that was never going to happen (I mean, if Tarantino couldn’t get it done, there is no way von Trier was going to). So it was split into two volumes (Vol. 2 to be released next month). And even though I would've preferred to experience a film like this in the more natural director’s cut format in order to give a more accurate review, here is my review of “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1”:

Synopsis: Beginning with a minute long scene depicting a blank screen and then suddenly jolting audiences into the initial visuals with a bad-ass Rammstein song, “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” tells the story of a man (Stellan Skarsgard) named Seligman who discovers a very badly beaten woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) named Joe lying in a gutter. After taking her home, she suddenly begins to recount her younger years as a nymphomaniac, segmenting each graphic memory into chapters, with each chapter meant as an attempt to express the reasoning’s and methods behind her condition. All the while Seligman sits at Joe’s bedside fascinated by her tales of sexual exploits and responding with a sort of Freudian analogy after each one. The introspective meditations between these two characters serve as a classroom-like psychoanalysis respite between the sequences of explicit visuals. During Joe’s flashbacks Joe is played by newcomer Stacy Martin, who plays out the numerous interactions with her many suitors, one of which is a recurring “love” interest named Jerome, played by Shia LaBeouf.

Because Joe dives right into her story within the first five minutes of the film, the plot seems to move forward in a bit of a clunky manner, as the probability of a random woman sharing a story this graphic and sexually explicit with a total stranger of the opposite sex is a hard one to get past. But after about a half an hour it does become easier to simply accept this von Trier’s situation for what it is and more so focus on the cutting analogies and ingenious story structure this brilliant writer/director brings to the table.

The Director: Wrongly labeled as a rabble rouser who uses what many perceive to be “dangerous material” to aggressively obliterate the line of decency, Lars von Trier is not only the most interesting writer/director working today, he also happens to be my favorite; even though I famously hated his last movie (Melancholia) and thought “Antichrist” was spectacularly fascinating on paper, but came off as visually disturbing for little or no purpose and structurally incomplete. That said, he is my favorite because he is such a cinematic outlaw, writing stories full of truthfully morbid subtext, as he stands unashamed of his celluloid experiments, coming forward with some of the most brilliant philosophical concepts this side of Ingmar Bergman (even if, as feature length films, they don’t always work). But, suffice to say, even though I myself enjoy his brashness, “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” will not be for everyone.

Was the sex real? Movies by definition are fake. During a production there are countless people on set, from grips, to gaffers, to cameramen, etc, but all we see is what’s captured in front of the camera. Also, if you weren’t aware of this, all of the actors on screen are acting! And furthermore, 99.999999999999% of the time when two actors engage in intercourse on screen, they are not actually engaged in said intercourse. Well, “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” throws that notion out the window; or so von Trier and LaBeouf (and Uma Thurman, on a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live) wants us to believe. On the other hand, there is a disclaimer going around that none of the actors had penetrative sex during the shooting of this film; meaning things were faked out using body doubles and such. That said, after watching this, there are some camera angles where the physical contact is undeniable, and coupled with LaBeouf in the buff, these visuals had me believing that if any of this was faked at any point, it fooled the hell out of me. In short, “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” is highly explicit…but that goes without saying.

As for the acting itself, it is all around just OK. There are many times that LaBeouf slips out of his awful British accent and the same can be said for Christian Slater, who inexplicably plays Joe’s father and speaks in an accent that is more Slater-ish than anything else. Gainsbourg, Skarsgard and Martin are all fine here, but it’s the standout performance from Uma Thurman as Mrs. H, the enraged wife of one of Joe’s suitors, that had me reinvested in the film after a semi-repetitive start to the second hour.

Final Thought: After sitting through this film with my girlfriend, as the credits rolled, my initial thoughts were in lockstep with hers as she immediately proclaimed that while she did find it fascinating at times and was interested to see Vol. 2, at the end of the day “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” could be best described as “a long, weird porno.” But now, after I’ve had nearly a week to let von Trier’s work marinate (a week where my admiration for this film only grew) I would now make the claim that this was not a porno at all, mainly because “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” contains sex, but not for eroticisms sake. Something to think about, if you are at all interested in seeing this.

Final Final Thought: Throughout the numerous scenes of intercourse and sexual encounters there is no talk of pregnancy…but maybe that will be addressed in Vol. 2.

Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus

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