Why I wanted a pause button watching Nymphomaniac
One of the joys of watching movies in a cinema is the lack of disruptions. There is no pause button. The movie goes on, no matter what, and you have to toss yourself into the stream and float along. But when I watched the four hour version of Nymphomaniac: Volume I and II, I cursed silently several times, wishing there was a remote control.
This urge for a break had nothing to do with bio needs. I had managed my fluid intake carefully before the screening and besides there was a twenty minute intermission between the two parts when you could take care of such things.
And if you think that I needed a pause because all the explicit sex scenes were more than I could handle, it wasn’t that either. If you can handle Shame, you can handle Nymphomaniac. Yes, there is a lot of sex scenes, even more explicit than in Shame since we see penetration and erected penises and such things (made by stand-in professional sex actors). But regardless of what von Trier claims, it’s not a porn movie of any sort. It’s not intended to arouse anyone. The sex is not erotic. It’s technical. They do certain things with their bodies, but they could as well have been doing yoga or cutting their toe nails. And you get used to it. After an event early on when the main character and a friend of hers have a bet on who can “get” most men during a train journey”, you see where this is going. By the time she’s having sex with ten different guys per night, nothing surprises you. The whipping that comes into play as the stoy advances can be a bit bothersome to watch. But after all you know it’s voluntary.
No, the reason why I wanted a break was because my brain ran the risk of getting overheated. You see, the amount of sex scenes is nothing compared to the amount of words and ideas that are thrown to you, quicker than you can handle.
Basically this is a four hour long conversation, illustrated with images and music that sometimes is intriguing, striking and beautiful, but never with the emotional intensity as in Melancholia. This movie didn’t hit my heart. It hit my brain, like a truck.
The participants in this dialogue are on one hand Joe – a woman who describes herself as a nymphomaniac and who is tormented by guilt over her sexual desires and actions, on the other hand Seligman, the man who found her lying damaged on the street and now listens to and comments on her story.
The way they speak doesn’t resemble much how people talk naturally in real life. In this aspect it reminds me of Ingmar Bergman. It’s so scripted, every line like a little carefully sculptured speech.
Sometimes we get to listen to miniature lectures out of the blue, on topics such as fishing, mathematical patterns, music composition or the difference between the Christian church in west and east. Once in a while they make statements about the world, clearly intended to stir a discussion. For instance Seligman puts out the question if we as an audience would judge Joe’s actions as hard as if she had been a man. Is the morale scale we measure people against different for men and women? Particularly during those thought provoking political outbursts I hear Lars von Trier’s voice I my head. It’s him speaking, though both of the characters. He may have decided to not to make public appearances anymore, but this doesn’t mean that he’s been silenced.
Perhaps this doesn’t sound altogether enjoyable to watch, but in fact I thought it was. I was mentally stimulated in a way that I normally don’t get by movies. I agree with the film critic at the local newspaper who called it “masturbation for the brain”. But it’s a masturbation where you don’t have influence on the pace, and that’s why I wished there was a pause button. I heard a line or an idea that made me go: “wait!” or “oh, no!” or “hm…”, and I wanted to halt for a moment to think a little further about it, but there was no room for this. All I could do was to try to quickly toss down a few lines on an imaginative mental note in the hope that something would stick, preferably long enough so that I could discuss it some other point with others.
Alone or in a group?
This is a movie you might want to watch on your own considering its sexual content. You might feel uncomfortable about seeing it with family and friends. But in the case of me, I regretted being alone as I left the cinema. I looked enviously at the small groups of people gathering. I could see how they connected their wires to each other, pooling their brain power, doing the mental processing as a group. I had to deal with it myself, without anyone to chat with. On the other hand – this is what the blogosphere is for.
It will be some time before more movie bloggers have had the chance to see this film, but I look forward to when they have, so we can sort this out together.
Nymphomaniac: Volume I & II (Lars von Trier, 2013) My rating: 4/5