MRR Review: "Nymphomaniac: Volume II"

Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Rating: NR
Length: 123 minutes
Release Date: April 4, 2014
Directed by: Lars von Trier
Genre: Drama / Mystery

"Nymphomaniac: Volume II" is the second installment of Lars von Trier's two-part film series. While the first film featured graphic depictions of the sexual exploits of Joe, the main character, the follow-up film is much more tame. In the sequel, Joe reveals some of the secrets she has been hiding, which results in several unexpected developments. Ultimately, "Nymphomaniac: Volume II" contains a better plot and more intellectual subject matter than the first film.

When the first installment of this story concluded, Joe was recounting her rather salacious sexual history to Seligman, a friend who is writing her biography. In the opening scene of "Nymphomaniac: Volume II," a younger version of Joe is shown playing in her front yard. Suddenly, Joe is visited by visions of the Whore of Babylon and Messalina, which cause her to have a spontaneous orgasm.

The film then jumps to the present day. After the death of her father and a rough patch in her relationship with her boyfriend, Jerome, Joe confides to Seligman that she has become unable to orgasm. In turn, Seligman tells Joe that he is actually a virgin. After discovering that they are not as sexually competent as they once thought, both characters begin to question their relationship with each other and their relationship with sex.

This revelation leads Joe to reconsider the events in her life that drove her to create an erotic autobiography. She also struggles to free herself from her troubled relationship with Jerome. As the film closes, Joe has to choose between revealing the complete truth and facing reality, or continuing to live a lie.

"Nymphomaniac: Volume II" has the same cast of main characters and also some new faces that liven up the plot. Charlotte Gainsbourg provides another authentic portrayal of the troubled, self-described nymphomaniac, Joe. Unlike the last film, Gainsbourg's character faces a series of events that result in grief, shock and confusion. She does an excellent job of showing the range of emotions Joe experiences in the sequel.

Stellan Skarsgård also returns to play Seligman. Although his character has limited screen time, Skarsgård performs very well. New faces, such as Jaime Bell, Willem Dafoe and Tania Carlin refresh the storyline by adding interesting subplots. These actors also play characters that provide some much-needed comic relief. However, unlike the first installment, the supporting characters manage to bring humor to the film without simply aiming for shock value. This was an effective strategy on Von Trier's part, because it offers the audience a different viewing experience.

The first installment of this story was largely based on the graphic sexual exploits of Joe. The second installment is telling more of Joe's story and is delving beyond the surface of sexual relationships. Although this has added a dramatic element to the film, it is offset by several scenes showing characters in very humorous situations.

The plot construction of "Nymphomaniac: Volume II" is far better than the original film. For example, when Joe sees visions of the Whore of Babylon and Messalina, a promiscuous Roman empress, this foreshadows the revelation that Joe has fabricated some of sexual experiences. This scene also shows how her earliest sexual experience drove her to define her life by the quality of her sex life. In addition, Joe's self-discovery process unfolds throughout the second installment in a way that further explains her behavior in the previous installment.

The revelations that Seligman is asexual and that Joe is not the sexual goddess she claims to be are among the best elements of the plot. These unexpected events make the movie fly by while the first installment dragged a bit at times. The dialogue is also much better in the sequel. The characters have witty conversations and banter back and forth, which keeps the audience engaged. Since the first installment really lacked a good script, this is a major improvement.
The one downside to the second installment is that it is possible for people who have not seen the first installment to have problems understanding what is happening. For example, it is never explained why Joe is telling her life story to Seligman, and a lot of the background of Joe and Jerome's relationship is missing. Instead of catching up viewers on what happened during the first film, the second film begins by delving into Joe's childhood experience.

With a more serious tone and complex plot, "Nymphomaniac: Volume II" is completely different from the first installment. However, the sequel has better characters, better humor and unexpected developments. These elements make this second chapter even better than the original.