MRR Review: "Nymphomaniac Vol. I"

Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Rating: NR
Length: 118 minutes
Release Date: March 06, 2014
Directed by: Lars von Trier
Genre: Drama

Haunting and erotic, films like "Nymphomaniac: Vol. I" are not for the faint of heart, taking viewers on a roller coaster ride of excitement and despair. Joe is a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac who is found bleeding in an alley by a kind intellectual named Seligman. As he cares for the woman, she recounts the details of her erotic life while Seligman listens intently, sometimes relating her experiences to things he has read in the past. "Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1" is an imaginative film that is engaging and somewhat provocative, bringing audiences on an incredible journey of illness, hurt and lust.

In the beginning of the film, audiences see Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) wounded and unconscious in an alley as the rain beats down. When a man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) stumbles across the bleeding woman, he takes her back to his home. As she wakes up, he gives her tea as she expresses that she is not a good person and begins confessing her misdeeds starting from her teenage years. The first chapter of the film commences, and Joe begins to explain her childhood. She states that she discovered her sexuality when she was just 2 years old, and she soon begins conversing with Seligman about the ideas of sin and religion. After she talks more about her childhood, Seligman begins explaining that a young insect is a nymph. She relates this to her teenage years, when she had asked a young man (Shia LaBeouf) to take her virginity.

After the pain of losing her virginity, Joe promised herself that she would not do it again. However, this did not last as she hopped on a train with a friend, and the two began initiating sex with random strangers in the lavatory. Seligman compares her experiences to fly-fishing, and Joe goes on to explain how her friend had taught her to ask lots of questions to initiate interaction, and the two began keeping score of their flings. In the second chapter, an older Joe has intercourse with a number of men, telling each one that he had given Joe her first orgasm. She eventually encounters the young man to whom she had lost her virginity, who she discovers is named Jerome, and the two begin a complicated relationship. Chapters three, four and five continue to recount Joe's various sexual encounters up until her moments in the alley, and the story cuts, only to be continued in "Nymphomaniac: Vol. II."

This film shares many characteristics with other films by Lars von Trier, such as "Melancholia" and "Antichrist." For instance, these films all explore certain levels of depression, delving deep into the characteristics of the depressive state itself rather than focusing only on curing the malady. "Nymphomaniac: Vol. I" reveals Joe to be a complex character who struggles with a mental illness while experiencing varied levels of depression.

At first glance, this film appears to be an erotic exploration of sexual desire. However, audiences soon discover that this is far from the case. Joe engages in frequent sex, and many of the scenes are both graphic and shocking. Meanwhile, Joe appears to have little feeling during each encounter, staring off with a blank expression during the detached, passionless sex. This reveals how deep the story and the character of Joe are while examining the reality of a unique condition.

This film takes a unique approach to storytelling, combining long, clever monologues with live-action sequences. The interlacing of Joe's story and Seligman's ideas are beautifully done, giving viewers a greater understanding of Joe with every turn. Despite Joe's extended monologues, the movie never loses pace, combining the unfolding plot with wonderful cinematography and top-notch acting.

Charlotte Gainsbourg creates a complex, believable character in Joe, garnering the attention of audiences with her shifting emotions and troubled demeanor. Stellan Skarsgard is just as impressive in his performance as the calculating Seligman, reacting naturally and appropriately to every turn in Joe's story while adding insight. Shia LaBeouf is a great match for the confused, stubborn Jerome, and Stacy Martin plays young Joe with emotion and spirit. Although the story is intriguing, the cast is what really brings this film to life.

"Nymphomaniac: Vol. I" is an imaginative film that explores human sexuality, mental illness and self-discovery. Although the shocking scenes and monologues may throw some audience members off guard, this film is more of an artistic take on nymphomania than a tasteless celebration of it, giving it a wider appeal. This movie is a great choice for viewers who crave a unique, intellectual experience that tugs at their emotions.