Divided into two parts with multiple sections each. Rough-looking nymphomaniac Charlotte Gainsbourg is picked up by virgin shut-in Stellan Skarsgard. She tells her story, divided into two long parts with multiple sections, each section metaphorically tied to a different token from Stellan’s bedroom. He is presented as the most patiently nonjudgemental man in the world, then finally tries to rape her in her sleep, because after all, she’s had sex with basically everyone but him. It’s temping to call this a betrayal of his character, but really it seems too tragically real. With all the sexual escapades in the four-hour movie, this final minute is the part I keep thinking about.
Part one is a romp, then part two does away with the fun and games and much of the humor, as “Joe” goes too far and injures herself then can’t have proper sex for a while and has to visit a masochist (haven’t seen Jamie Bell since 2006, forgot what he looked like – he’s got a Ryan Gosling dreamy intensity here) and she becomes obsessed with her first/true love Jerome (Shia LaBeouf, then distractingly a different actor in the last few scenes) and tries to murder him when he takes up with Joe’s girlfriend Mia Goth.
For the most part, except when part two gets too heavy in the middle, the movie mixes things up admirably. It uses cutaway footage with different resolutions and aspect ratios, graphics and captions in part 1, and is overall full of intensely good dialogue. Fun meta-moment when Jerome returns to the story, Stellan tells her the coincidence is too strong and Joe replies you’ll get more out of the story if you just roll with it and believe me.
Christian Slater is Joe’s father, mainly seen during the “Delirium” episode when he’s dying in hospital, and Connie Nielsen (Demonlover) is her severe mother (does she even have lines?). Sophie Clark is Joe’s best friend in part 1, and Uma Thurman gets a huge breakdown scene as the wife of a man who has left her to live with Joe. But, as usual, too small a role for Udo Kier.
… it functions a bit like a notepad, moving through different styles and tones without ever lapsing into stuntsmanship. This is a promiscuous film, one that intends to strip that descriptor of any pejorative scent. Like Joe, Nymphomaniac is exploratory and remains radically open, while retaining a core existential self. It can attach its diegesis to a character who may well weave in and out of objective truth; it may tip its hand into reflexivity, only to pull back and attempt to compel belief, both on the level of story and that of formal organization.