The erotic opus of Lars von Trier has been hailed as “the best erotic film in recent memory”, a “ferociously entertaining experience” and derided as overdone and “intensely tedious” – with just about every possible permutation of both admiration and denigration from all quarters. Certainly Nymphomaniac has gotten a lot more attention than would be afforded to a merely pornographic flick.
As an interesting note, Nymphomaniac has been banned in Turkey; the film board decided it was unfit for public release due to the nude sex scenes. Board director Cem Erkul said that censoring the film by cutting out explicit scenes was impossible because there were too many of them.
Essentially, the plot follows the sexual history of Joe, a woman who calls herself a nymphomaniac, from her earliest memories to late middle age, as narrated by her. She relates her life story to an older man (Stellan Skarsgard as Seligman) who has rescued her from an alleyway where he finds her after she’s been beaten by another man. The mature Joe is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, the younger version by a relatively unknown actress, Stacy Martin.
Von Trier makes no secret of the fact that the actors and actresses had stand-ins for the explicit sex scenes; stunt bodies, you might say. For the heavy-duty scenes, faces and upper bodies belonged to the headline cast members, but the lower half was supplied by professional porn actors. The producer, Louise Vesth, explained that digital compositing was used to join the bodies above and below the waist.
According to Shia LaBeouf, who has a starring role as Jerome, all of the action is for real; he said in an MTV interview that anything deemed to be illegal was shown in blurry images indicating an action that wasn’t really performed, but for all the rest of the scenes, he said, “. . . everything is happening.” LaBeouf also said that director von Trier is “. . . the most dangerous dude that I’ve ever showed up for” and that he was “terrified” of the project.
However, the actor’s performance communicates anything but terror, and the performances of Gainsbourg, Martin, LaBeouf and others including Uma Thurman as ‘Mrs. H’, Mia Goth as ‘P’, Jamie Bell as ‘K’, Christian Slater as Joe’s father, and others in a remarkable cast are impressive, whatever your views on the subject matter.
Any comments from cast members about the filming process convey a sense of respect and admiration for Lars von Trier and his direction. There may have been setbacks and probably a lot of re-takes but no one is going to quibble about the impact of the final product. Some will see it as flat-out pornography, some as intense erotica, some as a genuine psychodrama with insight and integrity. It’s probably safe to conclude that Nymphomaniac fits all those descriptions, with extras.
Trailer adult audience only