Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is filled with penis and voyeurism. But underneath the montages of cock and vaginal abuse, there is something that is far more disturbing that Trier brings to the light: society’s perversion of sex and sexuality. This is not a story of sexual rehabilitation; romanticizing the concept of young people using sex to demand their rights as human beings.
This is the era where the sexual awakening is accepted, praised, and even glorified. This is also the era where indulging in sexuality can be considered as immoral and written off as low class. This dichotomy stems from societal perversion. Trier skips the morality clause message. He fucks with how society plays sex off as something as trivial as the marker for social status (Is it cool to be a virgin yet?). He fucks with how society’s media exploits the appeal of sexuality to maximize profit and how sex can be written off as plain lust, a fit of temporary pleasure, a desire and a taboo.
His critique of society’s perversion of sex is embedded in how he utilizes the concept itself: as disgusting and destructive as possible.
Sexuality envelops our main character, Joe, played by Charlotte Gainsborg and Stacy Martin, as we watch her story of an adolescent sexual awakening to a slow, entropic descent. We watch her struggle with casting out the idea of indulgent sex as a taboo and with the idea of sex as a life devouring addiction. Joe’s story begins with what appears to be a rehabilitation; that her sexuality is natural and her interest in indulgence is a desirable taboo that not many human beings are brave enough to explore. She sits before this old man, Seligman, played by Stellan Skarsgård, who lives alone in this craphole, telling her story while he relates it to fly fishing and digressions with various literature and science facts. As the story evolves, Trier starts to reject the concept of rehabilitation, the idea of romanticizing sexual freedom.
In a society where sex is no longer given that double take like it used to and surrounds the idea of indulgent pleasure, Trier consistently plays devil’s advocate. Joe takes on a job that involves using her sexuality to pick at the weaknesses of men and extort them. She encounters a man who seems to be unbreakable. Finally, he is tied and she exposes his penis while telling sexual stories. Nothing seems to have an effect until she talks about a young boy at a park revealing him to be a pedophile. He breaks down and cries. Joe sucks his dick and explains her reason that she took pity on him. He had never lived out his sexual fantasies. He had lived a life full of denial and she had exposed everything. She compares herself to him as societal outcasts who were isolated because of their sexualities; explaining that these repressions are agonizing. As the film proceeds to a close, Joe sits upon the rubble of destruction. Sexuality destroys every aspect of this woman’s life. She realizes she is unable to live her life being chained to sex; her vagina is one giant wound from years of abuse.
Society perverts sex by simplifying the concept. Sex is money. Sex is being young and carefree. Sex is sexy. The complexity of sex in Nymphomaniac is in its depiction as an enemy. A way to destroy a life. To destroy a soul.
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