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'Nymphomaniac Vol. I' review: Sit back and take a load off

Nymphomaniac: Volume I

Rating:
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"Nymphomaniac Vol. I" will be released theatrically in Houston at the Sundance Cinema starting today.

Charlotte Gainsbourg as Joe.
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Joe.
Magnolia Pictures
One of many posters for Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac Vol. I."
Magnolia Pictures

It's difficult to process Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac Vol. I" and it's not because it's impossible to comprehend. It mostly lies within the way the film is written, separated into two parts, and its tendency to focus on some of the vilest human beings on the entire planet.

Before the knowledgeable yet naive Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) discovers the beaten and unconscious Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in the alleyway behind his home, "Nymphomaniac Vol. I" has a very slow opening that shows the beauty of falling snow and the innocence of trickling rainfall. The film then jumps into its first misuse of music as Rammstein suddenly explodes onto the film's soundtrack. Aside from the more orchestrated pieces, the music in both parts of "Nymphomaniac" is way too loud and nearly destroys whatever atmosphere the film had attempted to establish up to that point.

Joe has been very sexual her entire life. In a nutshell, the "Nymphomaniac" films are a retelling of Joe's life as she narrates her story to Seligman; a man who has parallels to every nasty sexual act Joe partakes in yet never gets excited or mentions sex himself. The film is labeled as a drama and you really can't digest it as anything else since there's nothing comedic or horrific about it. It may be fairly adventurous but only as far as exposed genitalia or sexual acts are concerned.

"Nymphomaniac Vol. I" isn't rated by the MPAA, but pushes the boundaries of what would otherwise be an NC-17 rating and is practically pornographic at times. The film shows a plethora of full frontal nudity of both sexes, plenty of graphic sex scenes, and oral sex on a train that is incredibly realistic and doesn't shy away from any explicit content. More complex visuals are shown at times involving mathematical equations, diagrams, and even a jigsaw puzzle.

Joe brings up her father's (Christian Slater) influence that culminates with him deteriorating in a hospital bed while filling his surroundings with feces as Joe watches and has sex with every man in the hospital. She speaks of Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), which is the closest she's ever been to actually being in love and yet Jerome is verbally and physically abusive between egotistical spurts of self-worth. Joe even mentions Mrs. H (Uma Thurman), a scorned wife who berates Joe in front of her three children for Joe's sexual choices and has an emotional breakdown right there on the spot.

The film is mostly Joe trying to come to terms with who she is. She claims she isn't a good person and is just trying to fill a void that is incapable of ever getting enough. "Nymphomaniac Vol. I" is a fascinating spin on the perspective of an addict who has never gotten the proper treatment. Joe bitterly reflects back on her life with no remorse while Seligman's parallels about fishing add bizarre yet meaningful commentary. "Nymphomaniac Vol. I" strips sex of its romance and its intimacy and overloads the act with nothing but pure lust.