We’ve got gratuitous nudity, mostly from lead Charlotte Gainsbourg, some fairly graphic sex scenes and some extremely short cuts of the sort of straight-to-the-point business you’d expect to be labelled porn. The story goes that an original trailer featuring Shia LeBoeuf performing oral sex was deemed too lewd and dropped in favour of this one. It kind of makes you wonder how they make their decisions, how any of this managed to make it into a trailer at all and just how far out the film itself is going to push the boat.
And that, right there, is the crux of Nymphomaniac. The title is self-explanatory, likewise with the posters. The plot, if anyone even notices it, is something about a self-diagnosed sex addict being rescued by Stellan Skarsgard after taking a beating and recounting her lifelong sexual adventures to him throughout her recovery. All of this is, obviously, set to a crunchy German metal track. Even the tagline – forget about love – is another hit over the head with Lars von Trier’s apparent message.
This is precisely the problem. My head’s sore enough as it is. Watching this trailer is like reading a Bret Easton Ellis novel: it feels as though its creator is standing behind you and screaming the word “controversy”, or at least making “ooooh” noises and then grinning to himself. It has no purpose. It exists purely for shock value, which, like its boat-pushing predecessors from Pyscho right up to Hostel and The Human Centipede, is its sole selling point.
Not that such an issue doesn’t exist, of course. Let’s not take away from that. Gainsbourg’s character, however, seems hugely implausible, picking up anyone she can get and looking extremely pleased about it for most of the preview, eventually seeking counselling whilst claiming not that she has any kind of obstacle to deal with but that she has “always demanded more”. It’s an extremely male vision of a happily sex-crazed young woman that might just border on offensive. There are plenty of ways this story could be told without the constant visual reminders.
Trier’s reputation as a “daring” filmmaker only ratifies all of this, with LeBoeuf helping to boost interest in the flick by describing the director as “dangerous” and himself as “terrified”. After his announcement that all of the sex was happening for real, it was revealed that digital trickery has been used to combine the anatomies of the stars with porn actors, which still fails to explain one scene involving Gainsbourg’s head.
The only reason anyone’s going to watch this is to see just how insane the final product turns out to be, including its detractors. I’m still going to watch it. Do so at your peril. It might even turn out to be good, with studio types squeezing as much of this as they could into the preview to sell tickets at the expense of revealing any depth or decent writing. Just don’t expect genius.