Nymphomaniac: Volume II

Directed By: Lars von Trier

Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Bell, Stacy Martin, Mia Goth, Michael Pas, and Shia LaBeouf

Lars von Trier's Trilogy of Depression is no longer really a trilogy.  With the unedited cut of Nymphomaniac topping five hours, this movie was destined from the beginning to require two parts.  This means that the Danish sex addiction drama has had twice as many chances to ruffle the feathers of more socially conservative moviegoers who simply can't handle watching explicit content of this nature.  Much like Volume I, Nymphomaniac: Volume II boasts a multitude of user reviews on IMDB hailing it as an awful porn documentary.  Though I obviously disagree with these “viewers”, I don't quite hold Volume II in the same esteem as Volume I.

Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) picks up where she left off in telling her life story to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård).  Metaphorically, they begin discussing the Eastern and Western Church and the schism that has widened between the two over the centuries.  In actuality, they discuss how a young Joe (Stacy Martin) and Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf) gradually grow apart because of Joe's insatiable sex drive.  Essentially, Jerôme has a tiger to feed.  When he starts offering Joe the company of other men at feeding time, he immediately places a wedge in their relationship that drives the two longtime lovers apart.  During their relationship, Joe and Jerôme do have a son whom they name Marcellus.

When things eventually do sour between Joe and Jerôme, Joe begins seeing a man named K (Jamie Bell). With him, Joe enjoys a perverted form of Roman punishment during which she is sexually stimulated by systematic violence, namely 40 lashes.  During her nighttime visits with K, she learns a great deal about pain and suffering at Marcellus's expense.  After her time with K, Joe moves onto L (Willem Dafoe).  This older gentleman encourages her to become more enterprising and turn what she's learned through life as a nymphomaniac into a profit.  As Joe continues to tell her story to Seligman, we really come to see how Joe is not really a tiger but a deformed tree on a hill scarred by her addiction.

I'm going to be frank.  I like Nymphomaniac: Volume I a whole lot more than Volume II.  The first half of Lars von Trier's final installment in his Trilogy of Depression is far more engaging and exciting.  Volume II is just more of the same with less intrigue and more predictability. 
From the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount to 007's PPK, von Trier throws on the metaphors as expected.  They just don't pack quite as much punch.  Featuring less of Stacy Martin and more of Charlotte Gainsbourg, von Trier substitutes a dynamic, engaging first-time actress for the actress who's been boring us with metaphors for an entire movie already.  The heart of the matter is that Volume II just isn't as good as Volume I.

Volume I really focuses on the life of young Joe.  As such, the real star of that movie is Stacy Martin.  In her brief reprisal of the role of young Joe in Volume II, Martin gives an equally ferocious and seductive performance.  After her performance in the opening chapter of the film, we're left with Charlotte Gainsbourg.  I understand that she portrays a low-key narrator the majority of both volumes, but Gainsbourg needs to bring some more energy to the screen when she steps into an earlier part of her character's life.  This is a woman tormented by an insatiable sex addiction who thrives on a certain kind of kinetic energy, the same energy Gainsbourg's performance is lacking.  Beyond Martin and Gainsbourg, The supporting actors give decent performances, but there are no standouts like Uma Thurman this time around.  Willem Dafoe, Shia LaBeouf, and Jamie Bell are all rather cold, distant males in the movie.  They give decent performances, but nothing laudable.

With Volume I, the focus is really understanding what makes a sex addict like Joe tick.  For Volume II, however, the focus has to be more than just concluding Joe's story and walking us up to the moment Seligman finds her lying in the alleyway.  Volume II has to be about giving this chance encounter between Joe and Seligman meaning and purpose.  The movie can't just be a conversation about the past; it has to be about Joe's future.  That being said, von Trier's creative decision is to play into Nymphomaniac's overarching theme that sexuality is the most powerful force on earth.  To simply play into this theme, however, is entirely too predictable and a waste of more than four hours of viewers’ time.  With all the metaphors introduced throughout the movie, he could have brought this two-part drama to a conclusion in a much more satisfying way.

Lars von Trier facilitates serious discourse on sexuality and sex addiction, but Nymphomaniac is no masterpiece.  While I'm not going to bash it as the worst porno documentary ever like those who've never seen it, I will say that this poignant, insightful drama has its drawbacks.  Namely, it has a strong first volume and a weaker second volume.  Nymphomaniac: Volume II gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few glasses of Viognier with this one.