Day 290: Nymphomaniac Vol. 2

"For a human being, killing is the most natural thing in the world. We're created for it."
Now that the cat's out of the bag on Lars von Trier's latest experiment and expectations have been adjusted accordingly, Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 has hit theaters and on demand with all the welcoming grace afforded a fart in church. More obligatory than anticipated, at least by this critic, the second part of this film wraps up this sex and shame filled odyssey, providing some much needed closure that will allow anyone foolish enough to have stuck it out this long to move on with their lives. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 couldn't have set the bar any lower, so could this film manage to redeem the lackluster first half, or are we just circling the drain for two more hours? Read on to find out...
Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) dives right back into her story, telling Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) about her first orgasm at age 12. This is juxtaposed with the point in her marriage to Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf) when she became unable to achieve one, leaving her to wonder if she will ever attain pleasure from sex again. She and Jerôme have a child together, but with him constantly out of town on business, she quickly discovers that she's not cut out to be a mother. Her quest to get her groove back, so to speak, leads her to a man named K (Jamie Bell) who specializes in a special brand of deviancy that might hold the key to Joe feeling something below the belt again.
Her frequent visits to K find her increasingly distant with her son, and she is often leaving him unattended to pursue her selfish desires. When Jerôme arrives home to find their son alone, he tells Joe that if she goes to see K again, he will take their son and she'll never see them again. She accepts his deal, sending her further down a path of self-destruction. She soon takes a job as a debt collector, working for a rather unscrupulous boss (Willem Dafoe) who is pleased with her work, but suggests she take on an apprentice. P (Mia Goth), the girl he chooses for her, turns out to be a quick study, but a chance encounter between P and someone from Joe's past causes her old and new life to collide in unexpected ways.
If there's anything positive to be said for Vol. 2, it's that it is not as egregiously offensive as Vol. 1. That's a fairly small consolation, however, because it does little to redeem how absurdly awful the first half of this nonsense was. It's a more interesting film, but von Trier is still more concerned with shocking his audience into submission rather than telling a good story. Some of the film's scenes are at least mildly entertaining, but they're all thoroughly forgettable, particularly when the highlights are rehashed in a late film montage, and you get the distinct feeling that it's been days rather than hours since you've seen some of them. For a film so concerned with shock value and doing things that no one else has done before, it's a sadly forgettable affair in the grand scheme of things with little to no resonance.
Such is the folly of undertaking such an endeavor simply to do something that's never been done before. All great art has come from a place of someone wanting to say something rather than just wanting to say something different. Form should always follow content, but von Trier fails to realize this, and it's why many of his most ardent supporters have abandoned him in the wake of his nonsensical, late career tailspin. He puts the "art" in artificial, and it's taxing. There's no longer any substance to be found in his films, and all the intellectual gobbledygook in the world doesn't make your film profound and meaningful if there's no there there. And it's not as if the film isn't personal. It reeks of a cry for help from a man desperate to bare his soul, and the saddest indictment of all is that in doing so, he's almost conclusively proved that he doesn't have one. 
While Vol. 1 was front loaded with terrible performances, Vol. 2 at least has a handful of good performances, although none of them stick around long enough to make the film palatable. Willem Dafoe is good, as always, but with only two scenes, he fails to land much of an impact. Udo Keir has all of one line of dialogue, but it's always fun to see him show up in a film. Jamie Bell fares the best of the characters with any substantial screen time, having grown into quite a fine young actor and making good on all the promise he showed fourteen years ago in Billy Elliot. Gainsbourg & Skarsgård continue their comatose tête á tête, which is about as informative as reading a litany of wikipedia pages and nearly as titillating.
Anyone who's seen Antichrist will recognize a very obvious callback to that film's opening scene, but von Trier does nothing interesting with it beyond simply reminding audiences of another one of his terribly repulsive films. All the visual flash and pizazz in the world is meaningless without any substance, and this is the height of vapidness. This film is dead behind the eyes, and all the blustery, self-aggrandizing talk between Seligman and Joe does is further prove the point that metaphors are best left in the subtext and become drained of all meaning when spelled out for an audience. It's not just that the emperor is wearing no clothes, it's that at this point, he's not only aware of it, he's proud of that fact.
Taken as a complete piece, Nymphomaniac is one of the most soul draining and wearying films ever made. It doesn't look, sound, or play like a film. Instead it feels like some nonsensical work made by a first year film student given access to limitless resources, all of which have been squandered in the pursuit of a medium that person has no business laboring in. The wheels are off the von Trier express at this point, and it seems as if critics are content to placate him by praising his desire to push buttons over saying something, anything, meaningful. In the rush to celebrate individualism, it seems that many have lost sight of the fact that it's a thoroughly empty gesture when one considers that there's nothing noteworthy about standing out merely to stand out. You have to say something worth listening to, and after listening for four hours I have heard, quite literally, nothing. 
GO Rating: 0.5/5

[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]