Lars von Trier's “Nymphomaniac” is mainly told as a flashback, with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounting her life story to a man she doesn't really know named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). The story seems greatly influenced by things that exist in the room in which she's telling the tale, a room in Seligman's apartment. In fact, the story seems so greatly influenced by items in the room that it might cause one to wonder if it's true.
I put that question to Skarsgard and Gainsbourg during our talk and Gainsbourg didn't mince words, saying “I think she's lying, I think it's part of the game.” She went on to explain, it's not an out-and-out lie, that Joe is sometimes lying, and “sometimes not.” Perhaps more importantly, Gainsbourg said that whether or not she was lying, “doesn't matter.” Skarsgard echoed that last sentiment, at least in terms of his character's opinion, saying that what Seligman wanted was to hear the story.
One of the other truly interesting questions surrounding “Nymphomaniac” is less about what happens on screen than how it is perceived. This is a tale that involves a woman's multitude of sexual exploits, and much of it deals with her not liking herself for it. Leaving aside Joe's personal feelings about herself for a moment, Skarsgard explains one of the significant perceptions our society has about women in Joe's position, “By tradition, in our culture, a woman that is frivolous is usually regarded as a slut, while a man is regarded as a stud.”
Gainsbourg followed that saying that the she believes the controversy surrounding the film is much more about “having so much sex on screen” than who is describing the acts. She also lamented it, stating that she found it sad “that we are still shocked by that.”
“Nymphomaniac” very much asks the audience to consider the above issues and others as well. “Volume I” is in theaters today, with “Volume II” following at the beginning of April.