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Nymphomaniac – Review

3 Apr

There are times where I’m writing these reviews where I think to myself, “I could just leave this whole page blank and people would get what I’m trying to say.” This is one of those times. Lars von Trier has done it again with a 4 hour dive into the mind of a sex addict in Nymphomaniac. When both volumes were finally over and the credits started to role, I began questioning what it all really meant, and I’m still not sure. All I can say is that if you are used to von Trier’s work, then you might know what you’re in for, but you still may be a little bit surprised. Now that I’ve got my confusion out of the way, let’s get into why I actually really, really liked this movie.

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In a snowy alley, a man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) is walking home from the grocery store where he finds an unconscious woman laying in the middle of the alley. He takes the woman home where she introduces herself as Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and admits the reason that Seligman found her like that is because of her troubled life dealing with nymphomania. She then goes on to tell the story of her life from when she was a young girl learning about trees with her father (Christian Slater), to her first real relationship as a young woman (Stacy Martin) with a man named Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf), and all they way through her adult life up until this point. While hearing about how her addiction has torn her life to pieces, Seligman compares her story to everything from fly fishing to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Nymphomaniac is the third part of Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy which also included the films Antichrist and Melancholia. Now, to anyone who has seen these other two films, it’s obvious that this is only a thematic trilogy, but you can see how the director has made allusions to the other films which was very interesting and acted as almost demented Easter eggs. What sets this film apart from the other ones in the trilogy is that von Trier is working on getting so many ideas and themes across that it is almost difficult to catch them all and link them together. With Antichrist and Melancholia, there were more than one ridiculously cynical theme, but I was able to catch all of them and link them together. It’s almost like von Trier is trying to upload all of his thoughts and arguments he’s ever had and turn them into one big movie. I don’t know if that makes this thematically messy or just really heavy.

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I can see how a lot of people would get upset with this movie. It is one of the most unapologetic films I have ever seen in terms of its graphic sexuality and violence. While the violence doesn’t happen too often, it is very disturbing when it does. Even though the film is graphic, it never oversteps its boundaries, which surprised me. After seeing Antichrist, I was concerned that von Trier was just going to use this movie to completely outdo all oft he terrible scenes that made me cringe and cover my eyes. This isn’t true. Nymphomaniac goes about everything in a down to earth way, even though it sometimes depicts the corners of the earth that we don’t necessarily want to look at.

I read somewhere, and because I don’t keep logs of everything I completely forget where it was, that Gainsbourg was asked if she is more comfortable with Lars von Trier after working with him on the two other movies in the trilogy and she said she absolutely wasn’t. That’s hard to believe considering everything she has done for this man’s films. She gives an excellent and understated performance, even amongst all of the psychological insanity going on around her. The way von Trier expresses this insanity is through the clever use of cuts, music, and sound design. It’s still Gainsbourg’s performance that leads us through this twisted tale of addiction, and it really wouldn’t have been the same movie if she wasn’t cast.

Nymphomaniac is one of the most bold films I have ever seen, and for that I have to give Lars von Trier a lot of credit. This is also beautifully shot and acted, with some of the coldest and almost obsessive compulsive dialogue I’ve ever heard. The only thing that really got to me was von Trier’s misplaced themes and an ending that may be one of the worst in film history. If you’re introducing someone to Lars von Trier, don’t start with this one. Start with one of his earlier works like Europa or his more recent Melancholia. This film is difficult to watch, while at the same time being beautiful and disturbing. It’s a strange trip that is only for the people that believe they can be comfortable with what they are going to see.

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Melancholia – Review

19 Jul

Lars von Trier is no stranger to shocking and appalling audiences. It seems he relishes in the idea of giving the willies to unsuspecting audiences. Mind you, he isn’t some sort of horror film maker who fills his films with monsters and murder. His films give a more spiritual upheaval or a large dosage of mental anguish. Melancholia hits where it hurts, and leaves you feeling hopeless and completely insignificant. Sounds like a bummer, right? Well this bummer of a film is also completely mind blowing and will leave you in a state of thought for days to come.

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The film is broken up into two parts. Part 1 is titled Justine. It is the night of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael’s (Alexander Skarsgård) wedding. Arriving two hours late to their own reception at Claire’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) mansion, tensions are already running high. Throughout the night, Justine becomes more and more distant from everyone, leaving the party to sit by herself many times. Soon the entire party comes crashing down on everyone’s heads. Part 2 is titled Claire. In this part, we follow Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) as they allow Justine, who is depressed to the point where she can’t even take a bath, to stay with them. During their stay, a planet called Melancholia, is either going to pass closely to the Earth and allow a spectacular display or will crash into Earth, ending all life as we know it.

Visually, this is an incredible movie to look at. Lars von Trier has a way of making his movies look like moving paintings, rather than moving pictures. Every shot is so deliberate, even with the handheld style that he uses to give a more intimate look into the private lives of these people. What is really very impressive is the CGI visuals of the planets. In a breath taking opening sequence, we see planetary events from a remarkable view. While I know that it is all just special effects, it felt majestic.

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To many, Melancholia will be a prime example of a boring movie. The whole film takes place primarily on the grounds of John and Claire’s mansion. By the third act, the excitement and suspense really pick up, but for a bulk of the movie, not too much really goes on. There are some familial betrayals and arguments, but it’s very much just a family drama and character driven story. That being said, until the science fiction element of the story really kicks in, the plot moves fairly slowly. This is hardly a problem thanks to the excellent performances by the cast, with a special recognition going to Charlotte Gainsbourg for really conveying the emotional intensity of the story and characters beyond the screen. Kirsten Dunst also has a challenging role, and does a fine job at getting the physical and mental troubles of constant dread across.

A word of caution. If you’re in a great mood before watching Melancholia, be prepared for that happiness to be shattered. If you’re a generally sad or depressed person, than maybe this movie wouldn’t be the best thing to watch on one of your gloomy afternoons. By the end, you feel absolutely helpless and alone in the universe. All of the controllable and fixable problems that the characters have on earth mean nothing when an oversized planet is careening towards them. You are forced to put yourself in their situation, because you, no matter who you are, would be affected by this interstellar disaster.

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What Lars von Trier has done with Melancholia is blend beauty and tragedy, love and hopelessness together to create something that, to me, has surpassed what movies are really supposed to achieve. The reaction that I had to this movie is deep and personal because it deals with my own mortality. This movie isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t really traditional entertainment, but it has a way of sticking with you and affecting you. I implore whoever reads this to give Melancholia a chance for the visuals, the acting, and the internal turmoil that it is sure to cause.