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Review: NYMPHOMANIAC, VOLUME II

Lars Von Trier made one of the best films of the year, and perhaps one of the best films of his career… and then betrayed us all with a cheap, gimmicky ending.

In the first half of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (as I have previously reviewed on Nerdist), Our sex-addicted antiheroine Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg as an adult, Stacy Martin as a young woman) related a long tale to a gentle rescuer named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) about how her nymphomania had led her into a life of obsessive iniquity and moral uncertainty. The first half ended with Joe announcing that she spontaneously lost all sexual feelings in her genitals, which is essentially the worst crisis a nymphomaniac can have. I was very taken by the robust artiness of the first half, and it seemed that Von Trier was finally, forcibly growing out of his affected misery, self-indulgent depression, and wannabe-naughty misanthropy.

The second half, released in theaters separately, continues the artistic greatness of the first half, exploring Joe’s soul into unexpectedly sympathetic places. This is the first film Von Trier has directed that actually seems hopeful about the human experience. As Joe commits more and more insensitive acts to feed her insatiable sexual appetite (she leaves her husband and child in favor of a sadist-for-hire played by the ever-so-handsome Jamie Bell, to cite one notable example), we begin to see her quandary. Her appetites are a show of sexual power and freedom – it’s part of who she is – but her compulsive need for sexual contact overwhelms her ability for lasting emotional contact. This is all explored free of prurience, preachiness, or judgment, just as in Volume I. This is not a film to titillate. It’s not a film to tut-tut. This is a film to explore.

Nymphomaniac II bondage

Since Von Trier still has the streak of the adolescent male in him, the exploration is handled more through a gentle sort of intellectualization rather than a truly empathetic eye; Sentimental empathy is most certainly not Von Trier’s MO. As such, the film bends over backward to wrap itself around all kinds of arch artistic experiments that luckily work more often than they don’t. Von Trier is just allowing himself to breathe, letting the characters tell their tale in their own time. The burning question Joe keeps asking is whether or not she’s a good person, with the Dionysian Joe insisting that her moral compass is broken, and the Apollonian Seligman defending her. Seligman, you see, reveals he is asexual, making him the perfect person to hear the tale of the nymphomaniac.

Until the last 90 seconds of film, Von Trier has made what can be considered one of the best films of the year. It’s sensitive, dark, light, funny, lithe, muscular, brainy and brawny all at once. Sure, it tries to elicit shocks with its closeups of genitals and unflinchingly violent sexuality, and one can easily accuse Nymphomaniac of being cheap with some of its protracted plot twists (Jerôme, played by Shia LaBeouf, re-enters Joe’s story in a few admittedly unbelievable ways), but I don’t see the artificial shock moments to be included for shock’s sake. They are there to lend texture to this story. Rawness. Discomfort. The shock serves a tonal function.

But then – and here I breathe a rather heavy sigh – Von Trier just couldn’t let well enough alone. The final 90 seconds of film betray everything that came before it. And not in a way that makes logical sense within the film’s context. The characters just suddenly behave completely out of character, and the gentle, well-earned ending is stepped on. After four hours of rough, dark psychological analysis and eventual hints at empathy and even redemption, Von Trier – possibly because he just can’t help himself – raises a big middle finger to the audience. I don’t want to reveal what happens, but the final scene is enough to enrage.

Nymphomaniac II crying

And it’s not because Von Trier is tilting back into his usual misanthropy and depression; I would be fine if the ending was unexpectedly tragic and even misanthropic. This is not a tragic ending. This is a filmmaker – for unfathomable reasons – intentionally betraying his own movie with what amounts to be a cute joke. I could only call it an emotional cheap shot if it made any sense whatsoever. To elucidate, it would be as if Darth Vader appeared in the final five seconds of Star Wars, murdered all the characters very quickly, and then looked at the camera as a trombone played a “wah-wah-wah” on the soundtrack.

This is a great movie – one that I still whole-heartedly recommend – that commits seppuku. I’m still upset about it. Maybe someday I’ll put that little twist into context, but right now I want to make the following recommendation: See this film, and then walk out right when Joe says she’s going to go to sleep. You’ll like it better.

Rating: 4 Burritos

4 burritos

Final Rating (The whole of Nymphomaniac, minus 90 seconds): 5 Burritos

5 burritos

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44 comments

  • The ending makes perfect sense to me. The only men she turns down are the ones that solicit sex from her. She turns Jerome down in volume one when he tries it on with her. When she says that seligmen has ‘misunderstood’ she means he sees her in the way women are seen. As objects which people have sex with. When in the case of Joe she is the one having sex with men. By the way I am highly amused by the bitter men verses women diatribes further up the comments. We are all arseholes it’s not gender based

  • I disagree with the author of this article. I thought the ending was the most powerful part of the movie, epitomizing Joe’s struggle.  He is actually someone that appears to accept her and relate to her in the way that she relates to sex in her exploratory way. truly understands her in an objective way.
    What a great betrayal that the one whom she claimed to have been a real “friend”, whom she could share her soul.  What a pig to betray her trust and sneak into her bed as if it his right since she has been with 1000′s of men… I’m glad she shot him.

  • SPOILERS IN COMMENT

    I absolutely agree with you about the ending. Having characters act completely out of character ruins a movie. Von Trier is a good enough director to know this. Thus the most logical explanation is that Von Trier thinks the man WAS acting in character a.k.a. men are pigs who can’t have a non-sexual relationship with a woman.

    It’s disappointing to go through 5 hours of movie which intricately and geniously explores sexuality only to be told at the end “But men really are just looking to fuck you.”

  • I think a few people have this right in a few different ways1. The ending *was such a blow to a generally beautiful, albeit ‘grotesque’ film. I had a feeling it was coming and completely bummed when it did.But 2. After sitting with it, I realized it completed Joe’s character arc. Seligman sacrificed himself. He knew that if Joe was absolutely serious about her soliloquy, his advances–advances from the only man outside of her father she had ever learned to trust–would be the only true way to seal her proclamation and save her by forcing her to save herself. (And like someone said below, Sel. was flaccid, the film did quite the job showing us “truth tellers,” and therefore he didn’t really want her)3. As mentioned, Von Trier simultaneously got to give our emotions a giant middle finger. This wasn’t a 90s rom com. So there’s that too.

    • I got the impression that he was trying to getting an erection, not to save her, but to cure his curiosity.  He stated right before she shot him, “…but you have been with 1000s of men!”  It felt to me that he betrayed her, sitting up all night listening to her chapters as if he really cared and was a friend.  But, when he sneaks into her room shortly after she goes to sleep, he showed that he was another liar.  She had lived a life completely isolated in who she was, and she finally felt she could rest.

  • I think the ending makes sense. It was clearly Seligman’s dastardly twin brother who was shot at the end. He had overheard their conversation and assumed Jo would fill the role expected of her. Under evil twin theory, the ending makes perfect sense.

  • Yes I loved the movie and I too was shocked at the end.  But when you think about it, the ending did not end as we all had hoped it would but rather it jolted us all back to reality.  Some people are just not sane.  

  • Yes, I was disturbed by the contextually illogical ending, BUT, as we’re asked halfway through the films to dispense with disbelief, the ending is thematically necessary. The movie is a redemption of female sexuality. Until the infamous last 90 seconds, we spend about four hours on a woman’s journey of justification for an unapologetic ownership of her sexuality (the nymphomania serves only as a hyperbole of normative sexuality as all hyperbole does, i.e., for the sake of art’s poignancy, but, in the last 90 seconds, we come full circle from the artistic abstraction of society to society as such wherein the woman is objectified and expected to act sexually despite her protestation, her humanity ignored, which also justifies the murder. That is to say, after this long, philosophical journey in which we glimpse a fantastical world of sexual equality, we are shocked and shaken back to sobering reality. It’s really a great ending.

  • No. I think this “I am a Nazi” guy is VERY frank in his ideas and this movie is very anti-feminist. The first man who had sex with this so-called sick woman, eventually made a living with her, and in a last conversation asked also for her love and commitment.

     Conversely, ALL women in this movie were sick in some way: the mother of few children who was losing her husband to Joe, and could find no other solution other than yelling and screaming. The last youth girl who shows some emotions for Joe but eventually pees on her; and Joe herself who has “fucked thousands of men” and is hopelessly looking for a sex partner, but kills the virgin man, because he treated her like a whore in the bed, not following accepted social games for sex.

  • It played to me like a joke alternate ending that they shot, and then decided to use for some unfathomable reason. This film (despite narrative contrivances for the sake of a functioning plot) was based on a reasonable premise. It’s as though Von Trier knew that, wrote a movie to suit it, and then intentionally wrote an unreasonable ending in order to thwart our expectations, purely as a matter of artistic license. Disrespectful to the audience and to the art of storytelling. This, of course, wouldn’t matter a lick if the rest of the movie weren’t so good.  Our notion of the importance of the plot is predicated on whether or not our heroine is going to decide whether she is a good or a bad person, ultimately. Seligman wasn’t set up as a sounding board. He is significant because he has offered to help her, crucially, with this judgment. It is important that she tell her story, but more significantly, that she tell her story TO HIM because of how opposite their life experiences have been. The character was written to be important. It is her story we are hearing, but sidelong, we are definitely hearing his. He is developing here as the world of his intellectual making is carefully deconstructed by this woman’s visceral, human experiences.  Von Trier might have wanted every one of these assumptions tossed aside (about what the significance of these two characters was, and what significance they had to each other) in order to force you to reconsider the entire premise of the film. In that, he succeeded. But the success VonTrier could have achieved had, say, Skarsgaard simply made sure she wasn’t disturbed, might have made this his best film yet.  Unless, of course, he wanted to challenge each member of the audience to write their own alternate ending…

  • The ending to me completely shocked me. But in a way it made sense to me. A woman like Joe, is craving her addiction. And acts upon it. She chooses the men or men come to her and she accepts it. The Old man who takes care of her listens to her story with open and curious ears like when he reads one of his books. He yearns to learn. and hearing Joe’s story is quite interesting knowing the fact that he is asexual. PLEASE DO NOT CONTINUE READING IF YOU HAVENT SEEN MOVIE. SPOILER. ALERT. Joe comes to terms with her addiction at the end. She is grateful that the gun didn’t go off and made her into a murderer as well. The old man puts her to sleep and retires for the night. Now remember the old man has identified himself as asexual. This man proceeds to go into Joes room and tries to start having sex with her. (Maybe the characters strength with learning and being curious and hearing Joe’s story made him realize maybe he should try it-doesn’t go about it the right way though)when Joe wakes up and asks what the old man is doing- knowing very well what he is trying to do. She sees his genitals erected and the screen turns black you just hear some scuffling. The old man just replies “what? You’ve had sex with thousands of men” then you hear the gunshot and her feet walking out of the room. Now I want to give credit to Joe’s character, the first time we see someone literally taking advantage of her in the movie. Usually she is willing to have sex. This time she knew her limits, but that resulted in her being a murderer. I don’t see the ending as bad. But it is a great thing is Joe to stand up for herself. 

  • I think it all boild down to the nature of men, even a person so intellectually driven like  Seligman, can’t overcome nature; yes I think the director failed to make the point across with that scene at the end.. they even said on the film, sex the the greatest motivator there is; is mother nature telling life to thrive … 

  • I loved the ending. The whole time you thought that the telling of the story was somehow going to lead to a redemption.  That Joe was going to learn something from her story, and change and never again be a slave to lust.  I mean, that’s at least what I thought the movie wanted you to believe – she seemed to be getting healthier and relaxed as the story progressed.
    Instead, in the end, the power of sex and sexuality, won out and everything in it’s wake was destroyed.
    Instead of redeeming the narrator, it corrupted the listener. Instead of saving a soul, it leads directly to murder.  It’s an affirmation of the movies hypothesis of sex being the most powerful desire 
    It was certainly a shocker but I didn’t see it as diverging too much from the characters or the story itself. 
    If anything, the admission of virginity was the thing that really seemed contrived. 

  • Just finished the movie. I was baffled by the ending. I looked up “Nymphomaniac ending” and this came up. Thank you for proving to me that I’m not terrible at understanding films. I thought I was missing something. I look at Nymphomaniac (or at least all of it except for the last 90 seconds) as a character study of two very different people who meet through coincidence. The last 90 seconds kind of destroyed what was probably the best character study I’ve ever seen on the silver screen. I understand and totally respect writer-directors who attempt to push the boundaries of film-making. “Nymph” was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and it was about to make a “top 50 movies list” in my head before the ending abandoned the character study and made Seligman into something that he’s not. Why did it have to end like that? So close to being absolutely brilliant. 

    • Me too, i was loving the film until the ending came along
      I’m totally fine with sad/bad/whatever endings as long as they make sense, but this one didn’t
      It is in line with Joe’s history with men(and women too), but it completely goes against Seligman’s character and Joe’s speech at the end

  • I couldn’t agree more about the last 90 seconds. It made me think that I had missed something. Like there was one long thread woven throughout the films that symbolically or thematically led to that moment. But no, going back over each chapter in my mind I think the ending really was just for the ending’s sake. It was just a pithy unfortunate joke about nothing in particular. Aside from the ending, I would set these along-side some of the most beautifully realized films I’ve ever seen. They’re a true achievement.

  • Caveat to my theory: I am 32 and do not know what an old man’s salami looks like in any state of arousal, so maybe i’m a poor junk reader, maybe someone can add an opinion on that last junk shot?

  • or…He could go back in pretending to want sex just so he could force her to think that even the first real friend she ever had, the first person that understood and accepted her, could be so down-low, proving to her that her sexuality is not the problem, it’s the dudes that have messed her up and even the best one is rotten “at”, although not “to”, the core.
    I think Lars wanted us to see stellan as a hero willing to “point an unloaded (flaccid) gun at a cop” to save a younger woman capable of enjoying a beautiful act that he knows he will never understand but that he parallels with his most exquisite past time of fishing, which also adds significance to why Lars spent so much time drawing lines between her sex and his bass reelin’. If Lars wanted us to conclude otherwise then stellan would have been unquestionably attentive.

  • So, I theorize that if the director wanted us to think that Seligman was visiting Joe for his own pleasure, then he would have been unquestionably fully excited in at least one of the 3 or 4 junk shots at the end. I think that Seligman sacrificed himself for Joe. He came back in there knowing what she would do, or at least hoping that she would kill him. He was her sacrificial cure, finally releasing her from the “subconscious restraint” that kept her from racking the gun before pointing at oldshialebouf. He wanted to say more or disagree when Joe verbalized that her solution was to quest for asexuality, but she cut him off and he was left to either let her go down the wrong path of believing that men were not the ultimate evil and that her whole condition was bad and her fault, or….

  • Please ignore previous post.

    Part 1. I saw it a little bit differently, as I think that Seligman was doing Joe a favor. Here’s my logic.

    Did anyone else notice that Seligman was not “excited” in his final manhood close up shot? I think it’s definitely not saluting, and I can say that because in all previous parts of the flick the theme of “state of arousal” was very clearly pointed out, ensuring that we knew exactly what we were supposed to understand through the director’s clear indication of the characters’ levels of arousal. Think about the “ultimate truth teller” in the volume 2 pedophile scene, and also how K determines that Joe needs more phone books, and how often the director led you to wonder if the active characters were aroused during scenes that he had not yet indicated it.

  • low, proving to her that her sexuality is not the problem, it’s the dudes that have messed her up and even the best one is evil.

    I think Lars wanted us to see stellan as a hero willing to “point an unloaded (flaccid) gun at a cop”. If he wanted us to conclude otherwise then stellan would have been unquestionably attentive. Since he wasn’t fully up then I conclude that the director wanted us to see this as a true act of altruism. Does Joe represent Mary Magellan and could Seligman be Jesus who saved her from the stones? Maybe…

    Caveat to my theory: I am 32 and do not know what an old man’s salami looks like in any state of arousal, so maybe i’m a poor junk reader, maybe someone can add an opinion on that last junk shot? My theory kinda hinges on it.

  • The ending was predictable, but unsatisfying by some of the audience. Truthfully, I was disappointed about Seligman decision. From all the facts about god, the intellectual understanding of all Joe has been through, and he unexcited attitude about Joe’s Story; for Seligman to break his own mindset just to have the feeling he never had. The fact that Joe referred Seligman to a friend, or her only friend did not let the securing feeling that not all men we’re worried about sex go down the drain.

  • The ending was brilliant. As a viewer you are praying that this poor girl can receive some relief, that there must exist some purity in this world. You KNOW he’s going to come back and try to have sex with her. But you pray that he won’t, please don’t come back through the damn door, just leave it alone. But sure enough wickedness corrupts and invades and wins out in the end. Betrayed by what could have been the only pure thing in her life, jo kills sigeman. This is brilliant as it is a metaphor for the jo’s plight, SHE never gets satisfaction; and you, the view shall get none. You plead for relief and Trier just denies you.
    Say what you will about curiosity killing the cat.

  • The ending was weak, as was the entire final chapter. The brilliance of the film reaches its crescendo when Joe affirms her addiction over and against the pathos of those in the sex addict group. The mystery and power of her sexual drive may titillate the male audience, but ultimately it makes a mockery of patriarchal conventions — like, marriage, motherhood, fidelity, etc. LVT’s sexual epic becomes melodrama in that final chapter called ‘the gun’

  • It was predictable, yes, but I hoped so hard that it wouldn’t happen. I was mad at first, it completely diminished eerything we came to know and love about Seligman. After thinking about it for a bit (tbh I only left the cinema a few hours ago) I’ve decided that Von Trier was actually making a statement about A-Sexuality. Seligman didn’t fit in the world and this was about his struggle as an outcast to society. This film was a conversation between two people who don’t f a nympho and an a-sexual who at the end of the film decide to overcome the thing that has outcast them from society.

  • Lars von Trier, a notorious prankster and ass, wants you to think it was a good, sensible ending. He wants you to believe it’s some grand statement on the unavoidable power of sexual desire and hypocrisy as the human condition. He knows the art-house crowd will gladly eat his shit, and he serves it by the barrel full.

    In actuality, it’s a direct slap in the face to anybody that sat through this film’s only-occasionally-engaging four hours. It’s also a deeply self-satisfying ending and was predictable almost immediately , as was the revelation that the person who cares for the nymphomaniac is (drum roll please) a VIRGIN!

    What a joke. I’ve seen a lot of movies dangle over the cliff of self-parody, but rarely do I come across one that gleefully dives headfirst over it. Fodder for nitwits.

  • At the end she had made a whole hearted decision to abandon sexuality for good. Her shooting him was a simple confirmation that she truly would abandon her past habits at all costs, she would even kill to maintain that commitment. I also think it was a good ending.

  • The ending makes total sense. Every man in her life had treated her in really disgusting and uncomfortable ways just as she did to them. In a sense she’d been using Seligman for her own pleasure of telling her own story, whether she did it to explain or to vent, and it comes as no surprise that he, just like all the others, tries to use her. I think it was quite an awesome ending.

  • The ending makes perfect logical sense if you listen properly to the final speech and decision made by Joe. It is perfectly in keeping and the change of behavior is announced. I don’t understand how this cant seem like a logical progression from the result of joe’s change of heart. Its perfectly in keeping with all other endings by Von Trier. It makes sense. Its only our own fault for not seeing the strands of logic building up to these moments.

  • […] Lars Von Trier made one of the best films of the year, and perhaps (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});one of the best films of his career… and then betrayed us all with a cheap, gimmicky ending.In the first half of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (as I have previously reviewed on Nerdist), Our sex-addicted antiheroine Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg as an adult, Stacy Martin as a young woman) related a long tale to a gentle rescuer named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) about how her nymphomania had led her into a life of obsessive iniquity and moral uncertainty. The first half ended with Joe announcing that she spontaneously lost all sexual feelings in her genitals, which is essentially the worst crisis a nymphomaniac can have. I was very taken by the robust artiness of the first half, and it seemed that Von Trier was finally, forcibly growing out of his affected misery, self-indulgent depression, and wannabe-naughty misanthropy. Read full article […]

  • I see what you’re saying. It was a shocker. But perhaps your reaction is exactly what he wanted.

    You are someone that has invested several hours in this story. And guess what, you are still talking about it. Not everything has a happy ending.