Predictably dark, emotionally and intellectually challenging, the second opus of Nymphomaniac is, unfortunately, less convincing. Having left Joe in a state of despair at the end of the first act, volume II relates her quest for renewing with sexual enjoyment whilst trying to define herself through – or rather out of – the sexuality frames imposed by society.
Now not only aware of her status of a sexual outcast but also deprived of sexual satisfaction through stereotypical heterosexual encounters, she gives herself to the hands of K. (Jamie Bell) and his sadomasochist practices. Although violent, the censored version is still bearable to watch, and opens the door to representing alternative sexual behaviours. As the posters of the film suggests, volume I and II are black and white: Joe, who playfully discovered her sexuality in the first half, is now facing the dark side of human sexuality, and the film very cleverly tackles even the most arduous sexual deviances.
If the discourse at the core of Nymphomaniac: Volume II remains powerful, the plot itself is somehow sometimes disappointing for a Lars von Trier. Some of the provocations of the director, especially the final twist, are less crafted, cruder and track the audience outside of their comfort zone without the usual intellectual reflexion. Alternatively, when intellectual reflexion there is, the dialogue between Joe and Seligman points it out, leaving no space for the audience to come to the conclusion by themselves.
There are no perfect way to watch Nymphomaniac as a whole. Choose to watch them separately, and the story of the chapter, their solid, and yet essential, inconsistency will stand out. Choose to watch them back to back and the conversation between Joe and Seligman is what will lead you through the 4 hours. The two opus have a matrix of their own, and the density of the references, wether they are intern to the plot, in relation with Antichrist (2009) and Melancholia (2011) or to other various literary work, make it a film that echoes. It has the potential to outreach its format, and make you want to look for more details either in the uncensored version or in previous Lars von Trier films. Too bad its director and some of the cast seem to underestimate that potential, and feels the need to, sometimes, push the provocation a little too far.
Nymphomaniac is released in UK cinemas by Curzon Film World, Certificate 18.