Nymphomaniac: Volume II

Movie Review #838: ‘Volume II’ weakly wraps up the four-hour film, save for its brilliant finale.

By Alexander Diminiano


Rated NR (contains mature themes, explicit sexual content, graphic nudity, depiction of sexual violence, disturbing content, strong language)
123 minutes

I’m going to be brutally honest here. “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” was a masterpiece. “Nymphomaniac: Volume II” is not a masterpiece. It’s a half-baked mess of sex scenes, which now are marked with violence that did not appear in the first installment. I would not go as far as to call it smut, but this certainly is not what I would refer to as art. Lars von Trier’s style still pervades this finishing entry, but it’s still extremely difficult to believe that “Volume I” and “Volume II” were originally intended to stand as a single, four-hour movie.

The story intends to heighten the depression of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and to introduce the depression of her now-husband Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf). It does that, but ineffectually. Before even that happens, though, we learn that the fiftysomething man she is telling the story to, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), is a virgin. I kind of guessed that in “Volume I”. Given how much Seligman tried to related Joe’s sexual experiences to mathematics, flyfishing, culture, religion, and anything else he’s ever read about, it seemed obvious he couldn’t relate to the experiences themselves. But where his interpretations were fascinating and symbolic in the first volume, they’re now given as shallow digressions into other topics. These digressions add up to at least fifteen useless minutes of the movie.

Then we delve into the depressing matters of Joe and her once-boss-now-lover Jerôme. Joe is rather careless in taking her birth control pills, so she gets pregnant. She never wanted to love the baby, so she decides to name him Marcel, after Mars, the Roman god of war. Soon after, she finds that after indulging in nymphomania for so many years, it is no longer possible for her to find pleasure in sex. It’s like sex is her religion, and the Armageddon has come. She doesn’t seek out a different religion, but rather a different practice: BDSM.

“Nymphomaniac: Volume II” is a growingly vile and uninteresting film. We watch the movie grow more brutal than entertaining, as Joe finds a job as an extortionist. Willem Dafoe plays her boss in a shade that is beyond convincing, but from this moment on, we’re introduced to a branch off the plot, not a continuation of the plot itself. We learn that somehow, Joe can manage to extort and have sex at the same time. We can no longer pity her for ruining her own life with nymphomania. It’s difficult to sympathize for her when she finally meets and marries the man she loves, and still wants more sex from individuals she doesn’t even know. I must say, we grow to hate this character even more in this movie, no longer because she is so honestly revealing her life, but because she is making herself look stupid at every angle.

I have considered giving “Nymphomaniac: Volume II” only two stars, and from this review, it seems fairly reasonable. But I am tacking a generous half a star to the end because the finale brought such a reaction out of me. The last time any director delivered an ending that was so quick, powerful, cutting, and enraging was Michael Haneke in his film “Amour”. It takes great character development to piss me off at the end of a movie, and as little as I enjoyed “Nymphomaniac: Volume II”, it does build upon the development that Lars von Trier established in “Volume I”. For that much (or that little), I say bravo.