In a rather complicated, but poetic, journey one young woman speaks on her experiences with sex and intimacy, as erotic as it seems, only the simple would think that was the point.
Review (with Spoilers)
It is hard to say what drew me to this movie. Be it the suggestive poster, all the hoopla over the sex, or just my infinite wonder of how Shia LaBeouf went from Even Stevens to a quite accomplished actor. Either way, despite all the focus being on sex, I figured like Blue is the Warmest Color, the reason sex was the focus is simply because “sex sells.” Though I hoped when I started the movie that the film would be far more than well-written softcore porn.
Characters & Story
Joe (Adult: Charlotte Gainsbourg/ Young: Stacy Martin) is a quite complex girl. She is a sex connoisseur, self-proclaimed nymphomaniac, and yet defies most of the stereotypes associated with a woman who loves sex. She is intelligent, clever, and though she does hookup with strangers, even a married man, there is a difficulty to listen to all this and still not see her humanity. Something which Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) sees as well. For, after finding Joe lying down, bruised and bloodied in an alley, he takes her into his apartment and tries to understand how she ended up there.
This leads her onto telling a vulgar, sexual, erotic, poetic, sympathetic, insightful, and dare I even say: thought-provoking story. One which leads you to understand what the concept of sex means, outside of the realms of love which it often is associated with. It makes it be anything from simple human to human intimacy, something to relieve stress and strips it down to its most basic form.
Alongside this though is Joe’s story which, thanks to the excellent writing of Lars von Trier, makes it so that even when you are watching two people fucking, making love, or simply having sex, as sexual as it is, it never becomes something done just to excite your senses, a la an HBO/ Showtime program. It has a deeper meaning and supports the story, rather than be used to represent the climax (no pun intended), like how it is used in romantic films, or be used because the actors agree to it. And arguably, as Joe says at the end of the film, after a while you become desensitized to the point where Joe having sex is like Olivia Pope on Scandal drinking wine. It is just a part of her character’s hobbies.
One of the things you always have to admire about filmmakers who don’t seek blockbusters is that they really do focus on reminding us cinema is more than a means of entertainment, but a true art form. One which can combine controversial things, like a woman owning her sexuality, while presenting the guilt which comes with sex; the issue of how pleasurable it can be, producing the feelings you have sinned; and then adding the idea that a strong love for sex doesn’t make a person any less human.
Which Stacy Martin, who plays the teen-young adult version of Joe, does magnificently. We watch her carefully go from naïve to someone fully in command. All the while trying to understand human nature and needs. Be it for love, money, or even time to one’s self. Then, with Skarsgard’s character, though at first he is presented as the usual older man taking in a young woman to be some knight in shining armor, in many ways he becomes her student. Not in sex, nor even life really. Just, she helps him understand how appearances can be deceiving, and how even with the backstory of a person told, you still can be left in the fog and know nothing.
For while you can tell facts, and explain feelings, this is far different from experiencing something. And between Von Trier’s words; the conversation between adult Joe and Seligman; combined with Martin as young Joe brings the conversation, and Von Trier’s script to life, to really pick apart and praise each bit would take longer to write/ read than the film is.
Quite honestly I am drawing a blank. Admittedly, the film can feel a bit long, and while the sex scenes are interesting, especially since they do seem to be about Joe getting off as much as the guy, which is sort of rare in film, I must admit that once you get to the 5th or 6th sex scene, you may start growing annoyed when they pop up. Other than that, I guess the only other critique is that you sort of wish they went into more details about her lovers, but with her implying that most of them were just sex partners, there seemingly isn’t anything to additionally add, without making it seem she was carrying on actual relationships and not just having f buddies.
Overall: Worth Seeing
Naturally, I wouldn’t say to see this with a prude, or someone you’d have to explain sex to, but for a mature adult this is a good film. For while it may feel a bit dragged out, and have so much sex that it is desensitizing, the sex is just one of the things to bring press. The story itself is very much like the analogies Seligman uses to explain fishing. You will get hooked and caught in the net of von Trier’s film, and rather than suffer like many fish do, you are taken, played around for a bit, and left with an odd mix of feelings including discomfort, curiosity, and a heightened sense for everything said makes you want to look at the world in a different way, experience more, and listen more even. Which, to me, is why this is worth seeing. After all, how often do you get something out of a movie besides saying you spent $12 for a good way to kill time?