“Nymphomaniac”- a study on hypocrisy

“Nymphomaniac I & II”, a film by Lars von Trier, 2013

A double trap woven with artistic values; a European story of satisfaction versus in-satisfaction and of sex-excess versus sexual abstention. It could be one film. The  reason that it is divided in two is mainly part of the plan of getting us in the end. Because this end is the black hole that sucks the whole story in and reverses it back to what we made of it. Incomprehensible? Not really; if you went to see the film, you are first of all curious, or you belong to the audience of Lars von Trier; so, cruelty towards your feelings, crashing of your beliefs, mockery of your aesthetic visions and none of this all, or exactly the opposites, are in the expected. So is the – unnecessary to my view – explanation in the end that the narrated extremes would not be so shocking if they referred to a male person instead of a female. Thanks, but then again we could figure that out without much.

After watching the first part of the total 330 minutes, it felt shorter than expected and incomplete, so I went to see the rest on the same evening. Whether entertained, shocked, bored  or not by the detached repetitive encounters bluntly shown, the confession of guilt and the references to our continent’s brilliancy in philosophy, music, cinema, etc. create expectations for a justified crescent; nothing like that happens of course; the “pain that must awaken the senses” part felt longer, even more because of it non concluding to anything; … and then once more we must thank art for being the buffer of reality.

The film could have a subtitle, like “-a European story”, “-pleasure and pain as daily practice” or “-a study on hypocrisy”. This last, the notion of hypocrisy, seems to bother von Trier mostly having been himself on the chair of the accused by journalists and the politically correct  who see the words and miss the meaning deliberately; that is how a decent living is made. Here to note that the chapter “Dangerous people” starts as a provocative joke. From that moment on it is clear that we are provoked to judge the persons and their actions and the one who put them there above all; a provocation that runs along the whole work; naturally.

As an artist in full control of his material von Trier makes a film of narration with flash-backs, some rules of the Dogma alive, some dead (where is the here and now?); but as said before, so what; they are his rules, so he breaks them as he wishes and that’s that. As form it is more built as a game of visions from the European cinema.

The film ends in a few minutes of blowing up the sex obsessed and the virgin and their stories too; whatever part we’ve taken, whatever prickled our senses (to say it in a civilised way) is thrown back to our face; live with it; angels and devils in one.

P.S. “The symptomatology of black bile had grown complex: depending on the humour on which it originated, and whether it was too hot, cold, moist or dry, it could produce lethargy or mania, taciturnity or loquacity, workaholism or paralysis, insomnia or stupor and anorexia or gluttony (showing in obesity or emaciation); it could make one a voluptuary or an ascetic. Though elaborate, the symptomatology gave a good accommodation for the ‘bipolar’ dimension of melancholia.”
Excerpt (p.140) from the book “The story of black” by John Harvey, Reaktion Books Ltd, 2013

Day 12 from the series "360 days", ink on paper, 2005-..., S.Kapnissi
Day 12 from the series “360 days”, ink on paper #ink, 2005-…, S.Kapnissi


It felt awkward in the beginning; perfectly aesthetic images and a steady camera. Main rules of Dogma 95 were overuled: “the camera must be hand-held” , “the sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa”. The introduction of the movie is a visual equivalent of the music, romantic music, Wagner! I am not fond of music helping out the film on emotional level; it usually feels like a cheat. But in this case you just cannot take your eyes off the screen. The story is said in the introduction; the most elliptical narration that you can have. And then we pass to the known field of the moving camera, unfocused restless shots, following the characters down to their psychological narrowness. Any sense of happiness is destroyed from the beginning so that we have no expectations of a way out. In the two parts of the film we see Justine’s wedding party ending with her submitting to depression. Then we follow Claire’s fears about the “fly-by” of the planet Melancholia. The movie ends with justification of both fears and depression. Justine is shown to be the strongest of the two sisters in the end. I think it is more that being depressed she associates herself better to the reality of destruction. Besides, Claire has a child and cries for him: “Where will Leo grow up?”. The answer is nowhere. This is a non-compromise movie about the end of the world. However, beauty and romanticism are present throughout the film. In fact, it is a purely romantic film about the end which is anyway inevitable. I don’t know if it is a dogma movie; rules have been broken. But “Melancholia” sets its own system and works in it; just like every work of art that is expected to be coherent to its own rules.

Thoughts that arise:
1. We must think above reality to be able to do anything at all.
2. The polished aesthetics have not left intact even the most determined anti-aesthetics movement.
3. Lars von Trier still manages to make a part of the audience leave the cinema half way, so there must be a flaw in his perfectly aesthetic movie.
4. There is still hope for the seekers of the basics.
5. Art is the best absorber of apocalyptic ideas; one more reason for teaching art at schools on the same level of importance as mathematics and language.

day 24, from the series 360 days