It is becoming much harder not to write this review in nothing but double entendres and innuendos, but unlike the first volume, the humor is scarce in this one, much to its own disservice.
We rejoin Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) continuing her story to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). After finally being reunited with Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf), Joe finds that she has lost the ability to orgasm. She is really upset at first, but has instead started to focus on her relationship, eventually getting pregnant and having a son. Sensing how sexually unfulfilled Joe is, Jerôme decides to open up their sexual relationship and let Joe feed her sexual appetites elsewhere. This leads Joe down a slope of increasingly risky sexual behavior that includes a catastrophic threesome with 2 African men and a language barrier, but ultimately leading to a merciless masochist named K (Jamie Bell).
Jerôme’s openness with Joe’s sexual agreement has worn off when his jealousy sets in, and is only heightened by Joe’s escalating neglect of their son. Forced to choose between sex and her family, Joe chooses sex and is rewarded with the return of her orgasm, but with a high cost. After having lost everything, and almost losing her job for her sexual appetite, she is forced to meet with a group to help her with what they view as a sexual addiction. Realizing that she won’t accept society’s demonization of what makes her happy and brings her pleasure, Joe goes into business for herself as an enforcer of sorts, with the help of neighbor L (Willem Dafoe). After that we see the chain of effect that has led Joe to her current state, which involve new friends, old ghosts, and a big amount of bad luck.
If you’re expecting the same humor in this second installment, you’re going to be more than a little disappointed. The are still cutaway interpretations of the story, but they are more informative than funny. Like comparing the birth of Joe’s child to a satanic omen or comparing the images Joe saw during her first orgasm to iconic sexually promiscuous women of history. The imagery is still beautiful, and the framing of each shot done to perfection, but there is little joy to be had as far as subject matter. There are scenes of extreme bdsm (bondage-sadomasochism) that make you cringe, but are also so eroticized that you can’t look away if you wanted to. Where the first film shows the light-hearted, happy-go-lucky attitude of youth, we must face the cold, stark reality of adulthood in Volume 2.
With age comes wisdom, and this film is full of it. This film is necessary when it comes to the actual understanding of the journey through nymphomania because it answers questions from the first film and dives deeper into a social and philosophical commentary that you could only arrive at through retrospection. Charlotte Gainsbourg really gives it her all in bringing Joe to life, flaws and all. Her transformation throughout the film and her journey give us a new-found respect for Gainsbourg acting. It’s easy to see why Lars von Trier includes an actress of her caliber in most of his films.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II shouldn’t be judged on its own because it is an essential part of a bigger piece. The lighter overtones in the first film are meant to counteract the overbearing dark ones in this one. Lars von Trier is ever unapologetic, bold, unwavering and one of the best directors when it comes to successfully completing his envisioned products. His visual style, impeccable taste in actors, and overall unconventional story will make you fall in lust with the film. That’s right, I said ‘lust’, not ‘love’. If this film teaches us anything, it would be that lust is a greater, more overpowering emotion than love.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II – RATING: ★★★★★★(6/10 stars)
Nymphomaniac (I + II) – RATING: ★★★★★★★★(8/10 stars)
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