After the first volume of Nymph()maniac, I remarked that I was excited to see the second, as well as the extended cut that lasted for somewhere around five hours. The reason for this was that the first part was funnier and more compelling than I thought it was going to be. It wound up being a very interesting watch, even if it wasn’t as thought-provoking as its director probably wanted. Given its storytelling method of breaking up the action into short chunks, it could endlessly reinvent itself and tell different stories each time, which means it never had to get boring.
Unfortunately, it turns out that after four hours of hearing a nymphomaniac tell her life story, it does start to get dull. Nymph()maniac: Volume II is significantly less interesting for the majority of its running time, in large part because it winds up feeling just like more of the same. The situations might be different — somewhat, at least — but it feels like we’re just going through the motions, waiting to finally learn exactly how our lead character, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), wound up beaten and bleeding in alley.
She was found by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), if you recall, who put her in a bed, made her some tea, and began to listen to her story, often jumping in to make comparisons between her actions and things like fly fishing or the Fibonacci sequence. We find out early on in the second half that he is an asexual virgin, and that’s why he is so receptive to her story. He can’t judge because he has no personal experience in anything she’s saying.
Nymph()maniac: Volume II feels repetitive, but only when compared to its predecessor. The problem with that is that the first part is required in order to get anything out of the second, and by the time hours three and four roll in, you’re not likely to be all that interested. Director Lars von Trier goes to the well one too many times and the result is a film that’s not as engaging as it could have been. There’s this great format that’s established but it’s like he ran out of inspiration and creativity.
If you were someone who was hoping for even more graphic content than was in the first film, you get that here. Or, at least, it certainly felt like there was more. I didn’t count the minutes or number of scenes, so take that as anecdotal evidence at best, but that’s what I came away with. Perhaps it’s because one of the chapters of Joe’s life involves her becoming involved with a dominator (Jamie Bell), and involves a not insignificant amount of S&M.
Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Joe for the vast majority of Volume II. The first time around, all of the “story” segments had a younger Joe, who was portrayed by Stacy Martin. Martin is a warmer actor and made the part more compelling. The disconnect between Gainsbourg’s cold storytelling and Martin’s warmer portrayal was interested. Watching Gainsbourg tackle both duties is more … expected, I guess? As in, there’s no difference in personalities and nothing to figure out. We know Gainsbourg’s Joe and therefore there isn’t much more to learn, especially as the film goes down familiar paths we’ve already covered.
The biggest talking point of Nymph()maniac: Volume II is going to come from the ending. It comes as a shock and it seems as if it makes one of its leads go completely out of character. You have to know a bit about von Trier and his negative thoughts about people in order to get it, I think. The ending isn’t so much a “this character did X” as it is the director telling us that “you people are bad.”
Whenever Seligman jumped in while Joe was telling her story, I almost stopped caring. Some of the things he said made sense, but they seemed to become increasingly bizarre and arbitrary. Maybe they make sense if you’re a more abstract thinker, but the logical jumps didn’t seem, well, logical, some of the time. How they connect to Joe’s story, or what they’re supposed to represent — the connections weren’t always clear. I’m not sure how James Bond’s gun fit in other than to foreshadow a gun getting involved. Maybe that was the only purpose.
Apart from the downgrade that came from having Gainsbourg play Joe all the time, we get introduced to a couple of other famous actors in her stories. I already mentioned Jamie Bell, who is fierce and far removed from roles he’s usually associated with. Willem Dafoe has a couple of scenes, here playing a man who runs a debt collection agency. Shia LaBeouf appeared in Volume I and has a few scenes this time around, too, even if he’s eventually replaced by an older actor just like Stacy Martin was (Michaël Pas, if you’re wondering).
Nymph()maniac: Volume II is a disappointing conclusion to what started as an idea with limitless potential and creativity. It’s repetitive and far colder than its predecessor. Its ending will draw both criticism and praise, and will be something worth discussing for a while, but the fact that it takes four hours to get there — two of which are pretty good; the final two, while not bad, are not as interesting — means not that many people are going to want to get there. Volume II isn’t bad, but it’s a letdown when put side by side with its predecessor.