Nymphomanic Vol. 1 and 2

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on March 28, 2014

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Dear Anne Linnet
Research and Help to the Director

Dear Anne,

I assume you're pretty familiar with sex. Maybe you were already an expert on the subject before director Lars von Trier hired you--or perhaps you helped him work out a few of his unanswered questions (with a job title like yours, who knows). I'm sure you know that when people say "sex sells", what they really mean is that the suggestion of sex sells. A four-hour movie that explicitly features, and repeatedly obsesses over, the bumping of nasties is another story. Especially a film like Nymphomanic, which seems so, um, well-researched…

There's a desperate authenticity to many of the film's most explicit scenes, which is brilliantly undercut by the sardonic tone of the alternating "storytelling" sequences. This framework - a conversation between two strangers - takes us in and out of a battered woman's sexual history from age two to 50. As the woman shamefully recounts each separate encounter, the man she is speaking with is constantly trying to reframe her experiences through his own detached, bookish lens on the world, diverging into sidebars and history lessons. Which is pretty much how I imagine your days "helping" Lars went.

But I guess some people can afford that kind of distance between themselves and their subject. Like the actors, for example. Sure, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, and all the others were clearly game to bare it all. But they're still "actors." Meaning they, like von Trier, required professional help. The film's fine print assured me of this, stating that "none of the actors had penetrative sexual intercourse and all such scenes were performed by body doubles." Performed, yes--by body-doubles like Cindy, and Mara, and Tamara, and Tom, along with a bunch of other half-named helpers. People, it seems, weren't willing to take full credit for their contributions to this prestige picture.

(Please imagine the word "prestige" delivered in Skarsgard's dopey, off-beat sincere tone from this entire film).

You, however, should get some kudos. I'm not sure who else could have convinced von Trier to make the film so absurdly comic. The artwork for the film is unapologetically salacious, and the tone of some scenes in Volume 2 is downright dreadful. But somehow the film remains relentlessly engaging. The scene with Uma Thurman, for example, is almost sublime in its blend of absurdity and pathos. It's a refreshing change of pace for the recent glut of sex addiction movies (Shame, Don Jon, Thanks for Sharing, to name a few). None of those films, however, were prepared to go down the rabbit hole (or any other holes) with the same bravery as your Danish bad boy boss.

Thanks for taking him there.



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