The poetic nature of Volume I leaves for a more raw, deviantly sexual viewing experience.
Trigger Warning(s): Scenes of bondage
Review (with Spoilers)
I’m going to say off the bat that Volume I certainly was more enjoyable than volume II, and there are various reasons. Some being story/ aesthetics wise and another reason being shallow. To explain, in this volume adult Joe begins divulging what makes her see herself as a horrible person, as well as introducing herself as more than a narrator, but the star. Making me think, because Stacy Martin is, to me, more attractive than Gainsbourg, it made Gainsbourg as lead a bit harder to deal. Which, admittedly, is a fault in my person, but I feel I should note that before I go on since my bias may show.
Characters & Story
Volume II may as well have the subtitle of “The Fall of Joe” for in the 2nd volume is where she goes from sex connoisseur to full blown addict. Joe (Stacy Martin/ Charlotte Gainsbourg) now finds herself fully in love with Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) but seemingly her clitoris is unable to respond to sexual pleasure, creating a unique problem in their relationship. One which ends her monogamy and leads her back to having multiple sex partners.
Then, there is an odd jump of 3 years in which Martin switches with Gainsbourg and yet LaBeouf stays himself. With this, you see an odd push to assert Gainsbourg as the turning point for when sex went from something she owned, and used for pleasure, to becoming an addiction. But, while older Joe speaks her stories, she starts to really paint herself as pretentious and rather than try to create a mutual understanding, in some fashion, with Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), they battle wits, opinions, and he her prejudices.
Somehow, though, as the story comes to an end, they find themselves at a beginning of a friendship. For, with Seligman justifying and explaining Joe’s negative actions with a positive spin whenever he can, he seemingly becomes the first one since B to really be her friend. And, with him being asexual, never mind a male, it is honestly perplexing. Though, at the end, a surprise comes for Joe and leaves us with a black screen and gaping mouth.
Quite honestly, I feel very much reeled in like the fish Seligman speaks on in Volume I. With Martin’s Joe, it distracts you because she is pretty and naturally seeing a youthful and nice body is what sells in the Hollywood market. But then, you get caught in the net and discover Gainsbourg is the true Joe. And with this, you realize a sense of shallowness for it is easy to accept Martin as Joe, but an adjustment to see Gainsbourg. And I must admit this is worth applause.
It truly makes all the conversations between Joe and Seligman make sense for, in essence, what they speak of is sort of how they plan to make you feel in the end. And for one scene, Seligman sort of rebukes, or gives his own review, of all that has happened which I found to be very astute. The idea is that Joe being a woman, owning her sex and sexuality, is only interesting because she is a woman. Be it a man and no real thought would come of it since that is normalized. Much less, thinking of Gainsbourg as sexual is truly a step beyond the comforts of the viewer, and it makes for a realization on how screwed up your own thinking is, or maybe.
I must say, though, one issue I had with this volume is the poetic bits were replaced with sexual brutality in the form of bondage. In the first volume, there was a conversational, and poetic, nature to Joe explaining, and telling her story. However, as Joe decides to walk into the Western Church, which is a reference you need to watch the movie to understand, there is an unfortunate drop of quality which I won’t say solely is due to mental comparisons between Martin and Gainsbourg, but I will say that Volume II certainly felt less inclined of restraining itself, and with this came much more discomfort as we watch Gainsbourg do more than have sex but be physically brutalized. And with these scenes, you realize that after being desensitized in the first volume, Von Trier likely looked to shock you and wake you up from complacency in such a way to be unable to condone Joe as Seligman has. Which, in itself, perhaps is more a praise than critique, but I do feel if you watched this in one sit through, if it wasn’t for the sounds of Joe in agony, you’d likely be bored enough to fall asleep.
Overall: TV Viewing
Arguably, if volume I was made three hours and there was aggressive editing in volume II, they could work as one movie. However, for reasons I don’t know, they were split and combined make 4 hours. Of which, after the first two hours I do feel there is this high on seeing what comes next, and as that high lowers, Von Trier and the cast look for other, and very cheap ways, to keep your attention. And be it my bias, which I have already noted, or Gainsbourg as an actress beside Martin, I just felt Gainsbourg worked well as a narrator, but didn’t find a way to hold onto your attention once Martin was dismissed. Be it because Joe, in her adult years, wasn’t this silly flirt, or because Joe’s life became systematic and a bit boring to watch, I can’t fully say. Either way, I’d say that Volume I is superior, and Volume II will likely remind you why most sequels are horrible, and a bit uncalled for.
“That empathy you claim is a lie, because all you are is society’s morality police, whose duty is to erase my obscenity from the surface of the earth, so that the bourgeoisie won’t feel sick.”
— Nymphomaniac: Volume II
“The first and most important step is to remove incentive and to reduce exposure. You have to ask yourself, what kind of incentives you have and then make it difficult for yourself to come into contact with them.”
— Nymphomaniac: Volume II
“The human qualities can be expressed in one word: hypocrisy. We elevate those who say right, but mean wrong and mock those who say wrong, but mean right.”
— Nymphomaniac: Volume II