Ball Torture, With Fishing Metaphors
Normally I enjoy that Lars Von Trier is always trying to provoke a reaction, to subvert the medium, the punk rock, sneering-at-the-audience quality of it all. But there are different ways to spend two (or three) hours flipping off the audience, and Nymphomaniac, with its promise of hardcore dongs-going-in action, rather than being the GG Allin-esque spectacle I was expecting, was more like if GG Allin had gone onstage in a nice houndstooth coat with leather patches on the elbows and read to us from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. “Oh, I’m sorry, were you expecting me to smear blood and shit on myself?” GG Von Trier seems to say wryly, his nipples hardening sadistically beneath a gingham shirt as you grow more and more bored.
At least, that’s the way I felt watching Nymphomaniac Volume 1, The Long Version (aka Nymphomaniac: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, which I wish many others hadn’t thought of before me). It’s not that it’s a bad story, in fact it seems to be mostly a pretty enjoyable one. It’s more that it’s a good story told BRUTALLY SLOWLY. Lars seems to know that we all bought a ticket to see the dongs go in, and instead he opens the film with five long minutes of rain drops on corrugated metal, his vulgar little sphincter puckering with glee as more and more in the audience wonder whether this nature film even has characters.
Once he’s finally finished filming rain drops, complete with a cut to black and a jarring Rammstein riff blaring over the title card (nice), we meet Joe, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who is lying flat on her back in the courtyard outside Stellan Skarsgard’s apartment, her face bruised and scratched from an apparent beating. He takes her inside to recuperate with all the gentle English civility of Paddington Bear, and as he sits on the edge of the guest bed, she starts to recount her life story, of her erotic journey from Milan to Minsk. Though the topic is sex, they speak to each other politely, formal to an absurd degree, like two professors in a sample exercise from a language book. “Did you go to the library today? Splendid. I too enjoy going to the library, and also to drink the coffee with friends.”
At first it’s funny, in an arch way, this woman describing the life cycle of her cunt (they both agree to call it a cunt) while the pompous math professor from Good Will Hunting constantly breaks in to talk about fish. To explain to her why her lifelong mission to catch some dick is perfectly analogous to his life long mission to catch some fish. Everything is a fly fishing analogy, her cunt the bait, with him interjecting some sexually provocative names for lures, like “the Finnish wobbler.” She moves from one story to the next, trying and failing to convince him that she’s a terrible person for liking sex, insisting that this next one, that one will finally convince him. Maybe it’s fascinating if the idea that sex isn’t shameful comes as a revelation to you, or enjoyable in that way that so many enjoy hearing their own already-held views reinforced.