For those of you who haven’t watched it (oh, how I envy you) Nymphomaniac is a two-part film in which a girl tells a celibate man about her self-diagnosed nymphomania and the problems it has caused her since childhood.
The film itself is really quite beautiful, even in its brutality. In the most violent, heart-wrenching and despairing scenes, the cinematography never lets the audience forget just how much work has gone into making it look so appealing, and it was this that kept me seated through all four unnecessary hours. I watched it over two days, and, although I was vaguely interested in the story, I wouldn’t have continued watching had I not been desperately trying to procrastinate my assignments. But honestly, there were things in this movie which made me wish I’d stuck with the assignments.
The portrayal of sex in film has always been a great interest of mine, particularly as I so rarely see mirrors of my queer self reflected back at me from the screens that surround us. But it wasn’t until I had finished Nymphomaniac that I realised just how much these representations meant to me, and how damaging it can be when they aren’t treated considerately.
In fact, the film’s treatment of sex as a whole is incredibly unconscientious. It suggests throughout that having sex too much or too little is weird, abnormal and something to be concerned about. In the case of an addiction, maybe there is something concerning. But enjoying sex and having it frequently? No, not weird. I would go as far as to call that healthy because, as far as I am concerned, it is these unbending opinions towards sex that curate unhealthy feelings towards it. This film implies that there is a ‘right’ way to have sex and a ‘right’ way to go about it, without once stopping to consider the nuances of a person’s sexual desires. Yes, rape is bad. Addiction is bad. But not everything overtly sexual is bad.
Excessive violence, degrading acts, and manipulation are used frequently by the characters to get sex and then more so during the act itself. This is great if that has been pre-arranged among a group of consenting adults – as it quite often is within this film – but it still overlooks the importance of this consensual act, being far too quick to jump on the ‘bad is bad’ bandwagon. Consensual, lawful sex, of any kind, is valid. I understand that Nymphomaniac is about a woman’s negative relationship with sex, but by only exploring these negative relations, it serves to advertise the wrong idea. The length and the beauty of the film demonstrate the clear effort that has gone into it. This doesn’t look like a film about a terrible relationship with sex, and yet it gives some incredibly mixed and ultimately unhealthy messages.
My personal grievance is with the ending. The first film character I have ever witnessed identify themselves as asexual appears in this film. That is the first (and still the only) time I have come across this, and the director turned him into an evil, opportunistic rapist. I will never forgive them. I first watched this film almost a year ago, and to this day I cannot think about it without becoming a seething mess because nobody deserves to have their sexuality treated like that.
So the overall consensus? Don’t watch this film if you have any regard for having sex, the abstinence of sex and four hours of your own time. It won’t be worth it, and you will end up confused, hurt and disgusted in humanity, a general feeling which is made worse only by Shia LeBoeuf attempting to be a serious, sexy love interest.