At the end of Nymphomaniac Volume I, our lead, Joe (Charlotte Gainsborough), is telling her life’s story to Seligman, a man who has taken her to his home for rest after finding her beaten body in the middle of an alley. Nymphomanic: Volume I ends with Joe relaying how she found herself at a harrowing crossroad in her young adult life. An unapologetic sex addict, a young Joe has just embarked on a romantic partnership with an old flame, but is devastated when she spontaneously stops feeling sexual sensation altogether.
Nynphomanic: Volume II commences during this period of sexual numbness as Joe takes a sabbatical from sleeping with other men, instead becoming domesticated for a few years. Yet, life in this role proves more unsatisfying than she expected, causing her partner to reluctantly grant her permission to sleep with other men. Still unable to find pleasure, Joe turns to pain and embarks on tryst with a slew of “dangerous men.” As Joe continues to divulge her story, we watch as years go by and she finds work as a debt collector before the story comes full circle to reveal what happened the night of her beating. Nymphomaniac: Volume II settles on Joe coming to terms with her addiction and mistakes, but not before one final test tempts her.
Alright guys, let’s remember spoons go on the table, not in our orifices.
As with Nymphomaniac: Volume I, Volume II possesses most of the same captivating essence that allows viewers the chance to fall into a trance witnessing Joe’s exploits and adventures. Von Trier captures the tension and anxiety of situations that Joe finds herself in through his intimate, close framing of shots. When Joe experiments with sadomasochism through a man known only as K (Jaime Bell), the care taken to capture her apprehension and anticipation translates affectively through the screen. When K prepares her for their rendezvous, he patiently stalks the room, scrutinizing her body for measurements before he begins. He informs Joe that there is no safe word and no one can hear her screams, leaving her no choice but to allow whatever he chooses to do with her. He decides to arrange her body over the side of a sofa, ever so patiently tying her up with rope, tape, then straps. Unsure of what’s in store, Joe sweats profusely, breathing with heavy, labored breaths in anticipation and causing me to do the same and feel her anxiety for much of her time with him.
So what did the five fingers say to the face?
Unfortunately, Nymphomanic: Volume II doesn’t share the same innovation and visual stamina that Volume I boasted. The use of stylized cinematic tricks like macro text, split screen, and intercut imagery are at times present throughout, but not nearly as prominently or cleverly, leaving much of Nymphomaniac: Volume II feeling dull and flat in comparison.
Overall, Nymphomaniac: Volume II lacks the structure and focus of Nymphomaniac: Volume I. What began in Volume I as an exploration of Joe’s unquenchable desire for sensation is sidestepped for a confusing side story about Joe’s life as a debt collector and a young girl named P who she recruits as her apprentice. P’s character become a major player, but similar to the weaknesses of Nymphomaniac:Volume I, she as a supporting character receives very little depth and relatability. P ultimately does nothing for the film but add a confusing, uncomfortable layer with a theme that toys with the idea of incest.
Looks like I wasn’t the only one getting hot and bothered.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II could have possessed a near perfect ending: five minutes before credits rolled it had clarity, catharsis, and evolution for Joe. That is until Von Trier’s nihilism made him send a giant “screw you” to audiences, further spoiling the film when Seligman acts completely out of character, defying every notion of him that had been built up in both films. It’s a cheap ending that dilutes the already weak story of the second half.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II falters in the light of its predecessor. While it answers the looming cliffhanger we are presented at the series’s beginning, Volume II missteps in not retaining what made Volume I so intriguing and fascinating. Nymphomaniac: Volume II busies itself with scenarios and moments instead of cohesively exploring Joe and even Seligman. Regardless, Volume II rounds out the feature as a whole, making for an overall amazing tale staring one of the most fascinating figures to shine on screen. Nymphomaniac: Volume II definitely lacks when compared to Volume I, but it succeeds in doing what it’s meant to do; concluding an already mesmerizing story.
Take a Drink: every time Joe is slapped
Take a Drink: every time there is a discussion about trees
Take a Drink: every time Joe shoots down Seligman’s analogies.
Do a Shot: when Joe orgasms