Nymphomaniac is a desperately provocative, pretentious and meandering mess that fails both as an art film and erotic character study.
Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, is discovered badly beaten in an alley by an older bachelor, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who takes her into his home. As he tends to her wounds, she recounts the erotic story of her adolescence and young-adulthood (portrayed in flashback by Stacy Martin). [Magnolia Pictures]
Nymphomaniac started off with an interesting premise. In the midst of all the passionless sexcapades is a sense of humor. Female sexuality is uncommonly discussed head-on without turning into a fan-service for nerds and dude bros.
However as the minutes pass by the film drags itself through non-linear flashbacks paired with assumed references to art and literature, which are no more than intellectual babbles. Adult Joe cherry picks accounts from her life told in chapters which are inspired by items in Seligman’s room, so you’re not actually sure whether the stories are real or she’s just manipulating him. The momentum stops dead on its tracks when you’re taken back to the dark room, so it becomes repetitive and dull.
Stellan Skarsgard is good but the rest of the cast were either forgettable or bland. Stacy Martin gave an empty performance. Shia LeBouf’s lapsing accent is ridiculous, along with Uma Thurman who has a far fetched character. At least Daniel Defoe is decent enough to liven things up a bit. The second volume benefited from Charlotte Gainsbourg as she gave a far better performance as the adult Joe, but even that can’t save the film.
Things didn’t improve as your handed an over plotted Volume II. The film continues to milk nymphomania for shock value but still fails even as a titillating piece. The media hyped sex scenes are mechanical and boring. There’s much better stuff online for free.
As the film ends, the narrative loses steam and you’re given a generic insight into this whole meandering mess. Seligman theorizes that all of it is just self-loathing caused by patriarchy, but we’ll never really know because the film gives an ambiguous ending that leaves you with a stereotypical thought that females are just crazy and undecipherable.
My Rating for Volume 1 and 2: 5/10