‘Nymphomaniac: Volume II’ takes a relentlessly grim turn
A two-star review of Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac: Volume II.” It can only make you wonder what more his rumored five-and-a-half-hour director’s cut could have to say.
Seattle Times arts writer
‘Nymphomaniac: Volume II,’ with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier. Written and directed by Lars von Trier. 123 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (no one under 18 admitted; contains graphic sex). Harvard Exit.
When we last saw Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac: Volume I,” she was a beaten-up mess taking refuge with an almost perversely innocent bachelor named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who kept assuring her she wasn’t nearly as “bad” as she said she was.
For some viewers, there may have been a real question as to which of them was right.
Now, two weeks later, with the release of “Nymphomaniac: Volume II,” there’s little doubt about it. Joe is a force of destruction, damaging not just herself but others, even when she’s giving celibacy a try. She’s dispiriting, she’s relentless — and no one has ever made sex look like less fun.
Grim business though it is, “Nymphomaniac: Volume II” does have some gallows humor and impressive performances scattered through it. Gainsbourg, as the quiet, dispassionate teller of her own outrageous tale, deserves some kind of endurance prize for the rigors of the role she’s taken on — and she does occasionally find barbed threads of humor in Joe’s nihilistic take on life.
Jamie Bell, as an S&M specialist whom Joe turns to in a desperate attempt to “rehabilitate” her numbed sexuality, gives an icily crisp performance that keeps you continually off-kilter. Think of him as a Dr. Feelgood with some fine-honed techniques for making people feel as bad as possible.
At the point where she resorts to his “treatments,” Joe is, preposterously, the mother of a young boy. Von Trier flirts cruelly with where her neglect of the kid might lead. Between that and the whippings and the close-ups of engorged genitalia, “Volume II” is much rougher going than the more deadpan and eccentric “Volume I.”
A five-and-a-half-hour director’s cut is said to be in the works. You can only wonder who’ll be up for it.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org