Monthly Archive for: ‘March, 2014’

Nymphomania (Volume 1) — Film Review

Nymphomania (Volume 1)

Directed by Lars von Trier



This movie goes on my all time Ten Worst List.  It is one of the most awful movies I have ever seen.  I went with a friend and I tried to get him to leave after half an hour, but he insisted on sitting it out to the bitter end.  I think in part he was punishing me because it was my idea to go see this.

The title is an outright lie.  This is not about nymphomania.  The girl portrayed in this film is depressed, detached, and probably suicidal.  If she can be labeled as anything she is probably what they call a ‘borderline’ personality.  But she is definitely not a nymphomaniac.  Furthermore, the character of the girl is not at all convincing or realistic. She comes across as some man’s fantasy of a woman, rather than a real woman.  It is, furthermore, a hostile, derogatory fantasy.  It is a negative conceptualization of female sexuality by a man who seems to know very little about women or sex.

‘Nymphomania’ is not a formal psychiatric category.  It is not in the DSM-V.  It is an informal term that refers to an unusually strong sex drive in a woman.  I dislike this term and never use it.  It has a clinical ring to it and a derogatory cast.  More generally, the practice of categorizing people according to their sexual behavior is completely wrongheaded and leads to all sorts of misunderstanding, distortions, and bigotry.  This film is a very good illustration of that.

The friend that I attended this film with is a joyously married man of many years.  He was skeptical that such a thing as a ‘nymphomaniac’ even existed.  He thought it was something like Bigfoot, where you only see the footprints, but never encounter the beast itself.  He asked me if I have ever encountered such a woman.  I have encountered at least five women that I can think of, and have heard tell of others, who could qualify for this label.  They are a rarity in American society, and our culture does everything possible to discourage this outcome of female sexual development.  I think there would be many more such women if the culture fostered them.  I don’t call them ‘nymphomaniacs,’ I call them ‘volcanoes,’ or ‘furnaces.’  It is less abstract and more evocative of the awe and wonder that such women inspire.

This filmmaker confuses promiscuity with ‘nymphomania.’  Promiscuity can be motivated by many things, and the kind of promiscuity portrayed here is driven by depression, emptiness, low self esteem, anxiety, and loneliness — and possibly, at an unconscious level, rage.  ‘Nymphomania,’ as I understand it, is an unusually strong sexual appetite coupled with a ready and strong responsiveness to sexual stimulation.  It is anything but disengaged and detached, as represented here.  It is not necessarily promiscuous, in fact, such women tend to create stable relationships with one or more partners of both sexes.  Having multiple, ongoing sexual relationships is also not the same as promiscuity.   Promiscuity is shallow and anxious.  Nymphomania tends not to be.  So the filmmaker has chosen an inappropriate title for his film, because he doesn’t understand the woman he is trying to portray and clearly does not know anything about women with exceptionally strong sexual capabilities.

You can tell right away that this film was not made in America or by Americans.  A man goes out after dark to buy something at a convenience store in his neighborhood and on his way home notices a woman lying on the sidewalk bruised and bleeding.  He helps her to her feet, takes her to his apartment and proceeds to nurse her.  This is something that would never happen in an American city.  An urban American man would never pick up a bruised, bleeding, semiconscious woman off the sidewalk and take her to his apartment.  It is unthinkable.  So right away the story takes on a fantastic quality to an American audience.

It is never explained how she came to be battered and bleeding and semiconscious on the sidewalk.  She sits there through the entire movie with her face all beaten up relating the story of her life and carrying on a wide ranging philosophical discussion with this stranger she just met, when her entire life, as she retells, it is a series of encounters with an endless parade of men of the utmost superficiality and minimal emotional connection.  Why she would suddenly open up and begin to philosophically muse over her life with this stranger under these extraordinary circumstances is hard to fathom.  The movie consists of long philosophical discussions punctuated by simulated sex scenes.  The sex is not very good and neither is the philosophy.  If you want to see pornography, don’t go to this.  There is nothing erotic about this film at all.  It is actually a downer.

The film amounts to an attack on this woman’s character and behavior led by the woman herself.  I think this is the reason she is allowed to sit there on camera with her face all beaten up through the whole movie.  The filmmaker wants to make sure she is made as unattractive and unappealing as possible.  He hates this woman.  He wants to drive it home that this beaten up, uglified face is the well deserved outcome of her character and behavior.  This film is a very conservative affirmation of marriage and monogamy.

Things get increasingly ridiculous as we go along.  There is a long highly improbable scene of a ditched wife coming to Jo’s apartment with her three kids and bitterly berating Jo at length in the presence of her husband, who has just left her, for destroying her life and wrecking her marriage.  By the time she went away bawling I couldn’t blame her husband for leaving her.  There is a discussion of the differences in polyphony between Palestrina and J.S. Bach.  There is a sequence of a chorus doing a Palestrina chorale.  There is an explanation of the Fibonacci sequence and its relationship to the Pythagorean theorem.  We see a jaguar with a young fawn in its mouth.  Sex scenes are accompanied by chorale preludes from Bach’s Little Organ Book.  All of this is supposed to have something to do with nymphomania.  It’s totally crazy.

If you fail to listen to me and make the mistake of going to see this, keep in mind that what you are seeing is not nymphomania.  ‘Nymphomania’ is a lurid title to draw you in, but this ambiguous term does not describe the character of the woman portrayed.  Jo is, in fact, at the other end of the spectrum.

I couldn’t see any redeeming qualities in this film.  There is nothing good I can say about it.  Stacy Martin’s nude body is good.  You can hardly go wrong with a good looking naked girl, but that is not enough to sustain a full length movie in this day and age.  It is not that hard to see a naked girl any more.  And the movie is rather long, or at least it seems to be.  Sorry, but this one is a total loss.

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