Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

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Black Hat
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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#76 Post by Black Hat » Thu Apr 10, 2014 4:41 pm

After spending close to four hours in the cinema yesterday I have so much to say about this film that I don't know where to begin. I have a lot of respect for Trier, find him to be a remarkably intelligent guy. This makes me feel that there has to be a well thought out reason for every choice he makes. I'll be back when time allows with a longer write up but for now I want to focus on the ending.
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What the fuck was that?

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I'm not advocating that film should have ended with her going to sleep. Something had to happen after, but that? That predictable? The only defense of it that I find plausible is that it was the final act of Jo's empowerment, her feminism, her sexuality. It felt clumsy. Now having said that how else could he have ended the film? Tough question. In that regard I understand Trier's plight.
Apologies if those who have seen the film have commented on this already. At the moment I couldn't read everything out of fear of getting sucked into what I'm sure would be fascinating, insightful chatter.

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swo17
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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#77 Post by swo17 » Thu Apr 10, 2014 5:14 pm

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As I discuss in greater detail above, I think the ending is a key turning point meant to discredit Seligman's role as innocent, nonjudgmental observer throughout the film. It's also deeply cynical, obliterating a brief, proud spark of hope with the worst thing that could have possibly happened. Which is often how life works.

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R0lf
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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#78 Post by R0lf » Fri Apr 11, 2014 8:37 pm

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I saw the very end as LVT losing confidence in the ability of the movie to hold it's own dramatic weight without staging some kind of overt drama. It reminded me a lot of the ending of Jeanne Dielman where after three and a half hours of watching Dielman unravel Akerman clumsily feels she has to show an overt change in Dielman to make her point.

I also thought the resolution of The Gun section in the alley was weak but after thinking it over I guess the overbearing symbolism of having Joe's experiences with patriarchy and maternity united is kind of funny and at least reasonable.

I really enjoyed the rest of the movie though and am more or less content to ignore and forgive the ending.

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colinr0380
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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#79 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Apr 12, 2014 5:50 am

R0lf wrote:
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I saw the very end as LVT losing confidence in the ability of the movie to hold it's own dramatic weight without staging some kind of overt drama.
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Interestingly this is the way I saw the bells ending of Breaking The Waves for the longest time, and long before I saw the 'miraculous' climaxes of Dreyer which Breaking The Waves seems to be paying homage to. I've since relaxed my attitude a lot towards the ending of that film and am curious as to whether the endings of von Trier's films play shockingly (and inevitably and manipulatively. Even aggravatingly!) first time around and then take on a different hue on repeat viewings.

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ianthemovie
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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#80 Post by ianthemovie » Sat Apr 12, 2014 9:42 am

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Still processing this, having seen Vol. 2 only just last night. But re: the ending:

This seemed to be an ironic conclusion straight out of the Marquis de Sade, whose work of course is very much in the background of this film (and LvT's others; apparently Breaking the Waves was inspired by Sade's Justine, and that name is later given to Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia). While there are certainly many, many other figures being played with (as it were) in Nymphomaniac, not least Tarkovsky and von Trier himself, Sade is a huge point of reference. See for example the many 18th-century novelistic touches, the picaresque structure of Joe's narrative, redaction of characters' names ("P.," "Mrs. H.," and so on), all of which are typical of 18th c. literature. Even Joe's initial pronouncement "This will be a moral tale" is an 18th-c. convention. And the sexual narrative punctuated by long philosophical digressions is exactly how Sade's novels are structured. (The volume/chapter divisions also add to this, though it's worth noting that nearly all of von Trier's films have some sort of similar divisions.)

Anyway, the ending seems to me to be a good example of vT using Sadeian humor. Joe says, in an almost cloying way, that she's going to renounce her sexuality and become a good, "happy" asexual like Seligmann. Little does she know that he will turn out to be just as corrupt and vicious as everyone else, prompting her to shoot him. As in Sade's universe, there is no escaping sexuality or evil. Very simply put, Sade insists that human beings are fundamentally self-interested, violent, and driven by power (sexual or otherwise). Those who deny this or act otherwise are (according to Sade) falsely conditioned by society to believe that piety and virtue are in their best interest. To try to renounce one's sexuality, or to try to become good/virtuous (either sexually or otherwise), is a futile task.

Both Sade and vT make this point ironically and brutally. At the end of Justine, our beleaguered heroine--who has spent the last 200 pages being repeatedly raped and victimized--decides she's finally going to get rewarded for her goodness and virtue. She prepares to settle down into a peaceful life. She is then promptly electrocuted by a bolt of lightning during a thunderstorm. (In a later version of this ending the lightning bolt exits through her vagina.)

vT's ending seemed to me to be a similarly ridiculous, audacious and somehow perfect punch-line. I felt that Nymphomaniac had plenty of flaws but I was quite pleased with that ending.

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R0lf
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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#81 Post by R0lf » Sat Apr 12, 2014 10:46 am

In all seriousness it now really seems a crying shame that the movie didn't end with Joe being struck by lighting in the alley.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#82 Post by warren oates » Sat Apr 12, 2014 12:28 pm

Exactly, R0lf, especially because current VFX technology could really accentuate that exit trajectory.

For me, ianthemovie's de Sade gloss is the best reading I've seen yet of the film anywhere. It all makes perfect sense and fits with the film's program, which seemed mostly interested in acting out a sort of catalog of systematic debauchery, depravity and blasphemy. And you can extend that even further to the director himself. If Tarkovsky has been one of von Trier's cinema gods forever, he's devoting an awful lot of screen time in Nymphomaniac to blaspheming his former master's influence, where every reference this time around feels like a gleefully satanic inversion of a formerly holy context, as if he were after the upside down cross of homages.

So I guess I'd ask ian and swo and any others who like the film more and for whom the film seems to be working just fine, what it is you think von Trier gets out of adopting such a practically archaic Sadian rebellion at this point in his career, but also in the history of his country, of Europe, the West and the world. I mean, really, merely aping de Sade was kind of fashionable and shocking back in pre-WWII France, when Bataille was still a librarian only dreaming of The Story of the Eye, but nowadays Semiotext(e) won't even bother returning your manuscript with a polite rejection letter unless you offer something with a little more imagination and acknowledgement of contemporary reality.

I suppose what I'm asking is if you think that von Trier imagines Joe or her story as somehow genuinely shocking to the sensibilities of his audience or the modern world at large. (Has he been on the Internet lately?) The film itself seems to exist almost outside of time and place, in a vaguely European Anglicized milieu of relative stability and prosperity. But aside from taking it on faith from Joe herself and the sort of implied assumptions of the film's narrative, there's very little evidence that the world she's living in judges her personally or her sexual adventures in general as harshly as von Trier and the film seem to need them to. Outside of her distinction between sex addiction and nymphomania at the busted up recovery meeting -- which was also probably the most contemporary-feeling cultural touchstone in the film -- I'm hard pressed to recall anything like societal constraints or mores that get in her way.

It just feels like von Trier's playing a bit of a crank this time, railing against an imaginary composite Puritanism that, if it ever existed quite like he needed it to, quietly surrendered and slunk away a couple of decades ago.

This could be a shocking film if it came from a country or a culture where the denial of sex still had some power, like, for instance, Iran. But from Denmark, from late career 21st century von Trier, after so many other less sexually explicit but way more transgressive and provocative films and after four whole hours of this two-part opus, even with the insights of ian's scholarship, I can't help feeling kind of meh about it all.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#83 Post by swo17 » Sat Apr 12, 2014 4:02 pm

I don't find the film puritanical. If it judges Joe at all (and I don't think it does, so much as it shows her judging herself) it's not for the sex that she has but for everything of virtue that she destroys or forsakes as the cost of always putting sex above all. In contrast, Seligman doesn't judge her for anything that she describes in her tale. He just takes it all in as empirical data. He thinks that everything she does is a beautiful flower. But in some sense, at the heart of this philosophy is the thought that "I won't judge you for the regrettable things that you've done, so that you won't be able to judge me for the terrible things that I've done or am planning to do." I feel like this sort of sentiment is what von Trier is criticizing here, and that this is a timely and relevant statement to make in 2014 to the "me" generation.

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warren oates
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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#84 Post by warren oates » Sat Apr 12, 2014 4:33 pm

I don't have time to respond more fully right now, but I do want to clarify that I don't find the film itself to be puritanical either. But in the same way that de Sade was reacting to the established values of his time, Nymphomaniac does seem to need to side with Joe in a reaction against what feels to me like an imaginary bugbear of an extreme puritanism that no longer exists -- embodied in what's supposed to be the sort assumed transgressions that Joe feels society judging her for (though we don't actually see this judgment dramatized) -- certainly not in most of the post-feminist sex positive West, where von Trier both sets his film and is presently distributing it.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#85 Post by ianthemovie » Sat Apr 12, 2014 7:41 pm

It's a good question, warren. My apologies for dashing off this response hastily. I don't have a fully developed answer, but it does seem to me that the film is making a fairly radical argument against the idea that sex is/should be empowering, loving, or otherwise "positive." It's true that in the 21st century we've broken down a lot of taboos surrounding sex, but it still seems to me controversial to see sex as something that is self-expressive rather than giving, reciprocal, and monogamous, as violent/"debased"/"degrading" rather than tender and loving, or as generally excessive. It's true that Von Trier is non-Puritanical and "sex positive" in this film, but only in the sense that he values sex in spite of, or even because of, its inherently violent, mysterious, painful qualities. He seems to insist, albeit using very extreme examples, that sex and sexual pleasure are inextricably linked to various kinds of pain, but that these are also inextricably linked to the self (as becomes evident when Joe
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tries and fails to cure herself of sexual desire).


Another way of putting this might be to say that von Trier's beef here actually seems to be more with sex-positive people rather than sex-negative people. As I understood it he seems to say that sex is dark, maybe even evil or sinful, and that's what's valuable about it!

That is to say that I think this movie seriously does risk pissing off huge portions of the population who hold normative views on many aspects of sexuality. Even within queer and feminist circles debates are ongoing about what kinds of sex are exploitative, which are positive/affirmative, etc. So I would say that Sade's theories (and more recent developments by queer theorists like Leo Bersani) are still quite relevant and controversial.

I should say that while I did find this film interesting I don't know that it completely succeeds, and perhaps does not even fully succeed in making the above argument. So I fully understand your frustrations with the film (and share some of them, too). On the whole, being a von Trier fan, I liked it a good deal but there are certainly aspects of it that don't work for me for various reasons.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#86 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Apr 13, 2014 12:15 am

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To me, Seligmann is a stand-in for von Trier himself - he's got enough of a sense of humor to see the inherent irony in making a very studious and sex positive film about nymphomania when the footage is often inherently erotic (though not nearly as often as I expected!) - as much as he wants to feel enlightened about his subject matter and pat himself on the back for the magnificent metaphors he crafted throughout the epic screenplay, he's still going to get an erection in the editing room when he sees Stacy Martin slide out of her dress. Seligmann's actions at the end of the film serve to call us all (male, female, filmmaker, viewer) on our shit in a twisted, very visceral way. By making the character allegedly asexual, he makes sure to include everyone in his indictment, including those merely watching the film to scratch their chins, in a way much like Seligmann described reading erotic novels (getting "literary" pleasure and nothing more.)

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#87 Post by Zot! » Wed Apr 16, 2014 2:41 pm

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Saw both parts now, which I think gain nothing from being seperated. While the Tarkovsky references are plainly visible, I don't hear much regarding the heavy spectre of Fassbinder that hangs over the proceedings. There is not a whole lot that seperates it from something like Marriage of Maria Braun. It immediately recalled Berlin Alexanderplatz for me as well, in particular Seligman's aparment set.

While it certainly fits into the pitch black comedy tradition, what bothered me about the ending is that it comes immediately after Seligman's suggestion that she's merely a victim of a double standard. While this is certainly worth considering, it's not only oddly pat that he would be just another male aggressor, but excusing her previous behaviour as a result seems hasty. I'm also a bit confused about how the two of them share indignation about certain issues over the course of the film. Why is she worried about human kindness or democracy, when she's a unhinged extortionist? Why is he concerned about political correctness or Jean Marc Barr, when he has alterior motives himself. Or is that just the duality of everything, and all is lost? It's an interesting movie.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#88 Post by swo17 » Wed Apr 16, 2014 3:17 pm

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I don't think Seligman necessarily had alterior motives in the sense that he was intending to rape her all along. Everything his character says throughout the film is following whatever whim or flight of fancy occurs to him at the moment. This felt no different to me, especially considering how gingerly he approaches her in that final scene, as though he has some kind of pleasant surprise for her.

And I don't see how the "double standard" speech is particularly helpful or convincing to Joe. She has done things she regrets and feels bad about them. Isn't this trait more human than feminine? This is a too easy, impersonal argument from Seligman that denies the legitimacy of her feelings and shifts the blame to society instead of showing some compassion, facing the problem head-on, and offering her some personal guidance that might help her to feel better about herself. If he was at all premeditating the rape at that point, then he was as much excusing what he was about to do as he was sweeping her guilt under the rug. Because as he would say, there's nothing remarkable about a man doing what he did to her.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#89 Post by Zot! » Wed Apr 16, 2014 3:30 pm

swo17 wrote:
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I don't think Seligman necessarily had alterior motives in the sense that he was intending to rape her all along. Everything his character says throughout the film is following whatever whim or flight of fancy occurs to him at the moment. This felt no different to me, especially considering how gingerly he approaches her in that final scene, as though he has some kind of pleasant surprise for her.

And I don't see how the "double standard" speech is particularly helpful or convincing to Joe. She has done things she regrets and feels bad about them. Isn't this trait more human than feminine? This is a too easy, impersonal argument from Seligman that denies the legitimacy of her feelings and shifts the blame to society instead of showing some compassion, facing the problem head-on, and offering her some personal guidance that might help her to feel better about herself. If he was at all premeditating the rape at that point, then he was as much excusing what he was about to do as he was sweeping her guilt under the rug. Because as he would say, there's nothing remarkable about a man doing what he did to her.
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I don't disagree, but putting that speech immediately before his return had the effect for me of unintentionally enforcing that there was some relevance to his previous statement about a double standard and that all men are indeed monsters

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#90 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Apr 16, 2014 5:44 pm

I think there's a difference between having a thesis that 'all men are monsters' and 'all human beings are capable of doing morally questionable to reprehensible things when it comes to feeding their sexuality' - the latter is how I interpreted von Trier's intentions here.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#91 Post by karmajuice » Sat Apr 19, 2014 4:55 pm

The thing that I found slightly off-putting about the ending was that
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Seligman's penis seems to be completely flaccid as he tries to mount Joe. Which made me think that his comments on his asexuality were probably genuine, and his transgression is based less on desire than curiosity.
I don't know if that necessarily changes how one should read the ending, but it did strike me as odd. It also made his decision appear all the more arbitrary.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#92 Post by mfunk9786 » Sat Apr 19, 2014 5:17 pm

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Isn't all rape, among other emotions/intentions/etc derived from some sick variety of curiosity?

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#93 Post by adavis53 » Sat Apr 19, 2014 8:41 pm

karmajuice wrote:The thing that I found slightly off-putting about the ending was that
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Seligman's penis seems to be completely flaccid as he tries to mount Joe. Which made me think that his comments on his asexuality were probably genuine, and his transgression is based less on desire than curiosity.
I don't know if that necessarily changes how one should read the ending, but it did strike me as odd. It also made his decision appear all the more arbitrary.
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He explicitly mentions in the film that his only interest in sex at this point of his life is a form of "literary curiosity." He also states that masturbation has done nothing for him since his teenage years so I think its pretty clear that he's pretty unmotivated by all things sexual.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#94 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Mon Apr 21, 2014 5:55 am

mfunk9786 wrote:To me, Seligmann is a stand-in for von Trier himself...
Apropos of this, Skarsgård has an interesting take on it:
The story sees Charlotte Gainsbourg's character, Joe, recount her life as a sex addict, in a series of increasingly explicit flashbacks, to Skarsgård's kindly Seligman. "The two characters are, of course, two sides of Lars von Trier," Skarsgård says. "One is the nerd Lars von Trier, and that's me [Seligman], and the other is the far more interesting and more multi-layered character played by Charlotte."
No elaboration provided, but food for thought nonetheless...

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#95 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Apr 21, 2014 8:00 am

Hey, asexual nerds can be interesting and multi-layered too!

I've, um..heard. 8-[

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#96 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Apr 24, 2014 7:45 pm

US Blu-ray release July 8th: Volume 1 or Volume 2 only will have a $29.99 MSRP each, and a 2-disc set with both will have a $39.99 MSRP. Therefore, the individual releases will be in a landfill near you within a matter of months.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#97 Post by jindianajonz » Thu Apr 24, 2014 9:54 pm

Any word on whether this is a full version or cut one? I'm not too familiar with the different versions but I thought I heard the British release was missing some stuff.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#98 Post by swo17 » Thu Apr 24, 2014 9:57 pm

The full version has only played once at Berlinale. I'd fully expect this U.S. release to be comparable to the UK one. The full version, if it ever comes out, could perhaps come a few years down the line from someone like Criterion.

It could also be the case that von Trier likes the pacing better in the cut version, that he considers the uncut version to be a rough, early cut, and that it will never again see the light of day.

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#99 Post by criterion10 » Thu Apr 24, 2014 10:09 pm

swo17 wrote:It could also be the case that von Trier likes the pacing better in the cut version, that he considers the uncut version to be a rough, early cut, and that it will never again see the light of day.
If I'm not mistaken though, Von Trier hasn't even supervised nor watched the cut version (this is the main reason I'm rather reluctant to watch the current version and instead wait for the eventual director's cut).

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Re: Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

#100 Post by swo17 » Thu Apr 24, 2014 10:34 pm

I've read from people who've seen both versions that you lose surprisingly little in the cut that's an hour shorter. It's supposedly just more tightly paced for the most part.

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