Nymphomaniac: Volume I and Volume II (Blu-ray Review)

Wow!  What can I say about this feature(s) that hasn’t been said before?  There’s a million and one ways I can spin this.  Was I curious about it?  Hell yeah I was.  Was I scared of it?  Honestly, I was a little bit.  I really didn’t know what to expect when I first popped this Blu-ray title into my PlayStation 4 except for what I guessed would be a whole lot of graphic nudity.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing is it?  Haha!  I guess it all depends upon who you are, how you are raised and what your opinions and beliefs are on how tasteful and/or delicate nudity should be depicted and handled within a motion picture.  That’s a safe and borderline way to say it, isn’t it?  I think so.  And that’s what I’m sticking to as I press straight ahead with nothing but forward progress in tackling this two-part Blu-ray review fully clothed.  Wish me luck!

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In its basic form, Nymphomaniac is a two-part Danish drama film written and directed by Lars von Trier.  It’s his follow-up and final film in the “Depression Trilogy” to Melancholia (Antichrist is the other film in the unofficial trilogy).  The story revolves around the character of Joe, portrayed by Charlotte Gainsbourg, a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac.  The two-part film also stars Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Connie Nielsen, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman and Willem Defoe.  And yes, as widely reported, the feature(s) contains very graphic depictions of sexuality as described in the press release “to a degree unprecedented in a mainstream feature film.”  Doesn’t that just color you yellow with curiosity about what really transpires here on this shiny plastic Blu-ray optical disc?

I thought about this well in advance before sitting down and writing this Blu-ray review and I guess the best way to tackle things down below is to talk about each of the films separately within their own self-contained respective paragraph and then come together in a hamronious conclusion and chat about everything as a cohesive whole.  Does that sound good to you at all?  It’s really not like you have any say in the matter, but I thought it would be a kind gesture to explain how things will be laid out and of course how the madness works in my brain.  The wheels are always turning up there and you my audience should always be privy to any speed bumps in the road that I can forecast and shed light upon.  So here goes nothing.

Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 is the story of Joe.  She is found badly beaten in an alley by an older bachelor, Seligman (Skarsgard), who takes her into his home.  It is there where she recounts the erotic story of her younger years (portrayed in flashback scenes by Stacy Martin).  And believe it or not, her decision to open up metaphorically and tell her tale was inspired by a fly fishing hook anchored in a wall.  As it eventually turns out, many of Joe’s conquests, trials and tribulations she discusses relates back to fishing in this first volume.  How so?  Did you really think I would spoil that for you? Come on!  Get serious!  The main crux of this film is to see how Joe goes from one metamorphosis in life to another and it all comes full circle in relation to what her seemingly best friend whispered to her.  Of course fools!  I’m talking about love!  How can we have a movie chalk full of sex without a tale of love?!  Don’t answer that!  Joe’s main love interest here is played by none other than Sam Witwicky, Mr. Shia LaBeouf.  And let me be the first to admit, digitally rendered or not, I saw more than I cared to of Shia.  LOL.

Alright, I lied.  I learned the hard way after I started writing my synopsis of Volume 1 that I was never going to escape with just one paragraph alone.  Oh no!  There’s too much here in this cautionary tale of love, coming of age and um…of nymphomaniac tendencies.  Just why Joe had so much sex with so many many is methodically explored here as Joe tells Seligman one tale after another broken out into five notable chapters: “The Compleat Angler,” “Jerome,” “Mrs. H,” “Delirium” and “The Little Organ School.”  After initially examining Joe’s youth and relationship with her father (Slater) and mother (Nielsen) we are quickly introduced to the character of Jerome played by LaBeouf.  But perhaps no character stands out greater to me this first half than that of the role of the distressed wife, Mrs. H (Thurman).  That was Uma at her finest in my opinion.  Word by word, action by action she had my attention and never let it go until her character finally snapped like the rubber band tightly wound dialogue in a Tarantino film.  However, no matter what was thrown at him, Seligman took everything with stride and nothing Joe said really seemed to phase him.  At times he thought maybe she was fibbing, but honest to God, if it was me and this girl is telling me all of this, I’m not quite sure how I would keep it together nevertheless feel safe with her in the sanctuary of my own home.  What does Seligman have up his sleeves?  That’s what I want to know.  And when the lights went out in Joe’s last relationship the credits rolled with a familiar heavy rocking anthem of Rammstein as scenes from Volume 2 were teased.  And hence my near perfect segue…

Nymphomaniac: Volume 2 propels the story forward with Joe now in adulthood as she wrestles with her journey of self-discovery and the many dark complications it brings to her including parenthood, sadomasochist beatings, a new dangerous occupation and even the taking on and fostering of a younger mentor (actually played by Shia’s real life girlfriend).  This second volume, however, features only three chapters: “The Eastern and the Western Church (The Silent Duck), “The Mirror” and “The Gun.”  New characters are introduced in these three chapters that involve Jamie Bell as a sadomasochist and Willem Defoe as an organized crime boss.  Each one of these characters is integral in Joe’s journey of admitting what she really is and undoubtedly responsible for her desire to finally want to kick the habit, although you never know if that pesky Jerome is out of the picture or not.  And what of her new mentor, P (Mia Goth)?  Is she really as innocent as she looks?  These questions and so many more are eventually answered as our two-part tale comes to a screaming halt, but perhaps maybe not as clean cut as you wanted them to be.  The most curious character to me was that of Seligman so I hung in there until the shocking end just to see if I was right about his character’s arc.  I was!  And with that being said at least I feel like I accomplished something these past four hours of movie watching.

What it all boils down to now is how did I feel about the two volumes as a whole.  To say the least, they are a bit disturbing.  It’s some uneasy subject matter at times playing out onscreen.  The saving grace for me is that I only saw the 4-hour cut, not the much rumored 5.5 hour director’s cut that’s supposed to be released by the year’s end most likely on home video.  Like the theatrical Lord of the Ring films compared to their Extended big brothers, this cut was long enough for me.  I get the point.  Sexuality is a force not to be reckoned with.  It’s powerful.  In this film, besides the onscreen graphic nudity and sexual acts (with real life porn star genitalia digitally inserted doing the dirty deeds), sex is also described through fishing as I mentioned up above already plus music, mathematics, religion and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes I sat there while watching this, devoid of the deeper connection of it all, just wondering how some of the more amateur moments in the film really made it in Hollywood.  I thought to myself my writings are better than this.  Then I came back down to reality because in hindsight looking back this is really a deep, emotional look at the wrestling of the forces between sex and love, which can result in loneliness, emptiness and in Joe’s case meaningless too.  They are both very destructive forces at play and in just these brief 4 hours (I can say brief now) we are witnesses to Joe’s lifelong struggle with sexual addiction and how it affected not only her childhood and relationships with her parents, but also how it affected her shot of having a bonafide family in life and how her seemingly uncontrollable urges took every last thing away from her as we are first introduced to her character.  Bravo to Lars for keeping my interest level there at least for 4 straight hours.  It’s not an easy film to watch, not at all, but if you yearn for deep character driven films like this, then by all means it is worth your time.  The performances in here, minus Shia’s accent, are top notch and highly recommended.

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This is a rough presentation to grade considering the different stylistic elements employed throughout each feature’s runtime, but hopefully I explained my justifications below thorough enough to warrant the above cohesive score.

  • Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 2.35:1
  • Clarity/Detail:  Depending upon what the artistic intent and age of the footage you are viewing in a particular scene, this flick shot on an Arri Alexa camera looks clean and chiseled.  So your results may very, but when we’re not using random stock footage I’m pretty pleased with the clarity and detail in this one from shots in the alley of the brick walls, individual snowflakes, water dripping, dirty wallpaper and even the imperfections in the actors’ skin. And rest assured there’s a lot of skin!  And let’s be honest with ourselves.  You’re going to see some imperfections and even things you don’t want to see, but unfortunately it cannot be unseen.  There are also those stylistic elements I just made referenced to before that kind of distort smoothness and sharpness, but I think you’re smart enough a viewer to determine what’s up.  However, every time the film decides to venture outdoors and takes us there, things literally pop on the screen…beautiful and crisp.
  • Depth: Although it’s not always evident, but for the most part, this presentation has that three-dimensional pop we all love on the Blu-ray format.  This one kind of has an art house look and feel to it rather than a razor-sharp chiseled action adventure.  But I digress.  Our main focus is that the depth is quite impressive here and that’s all that really matters.
  • Black Levels: Other than the moments of artistic tweaking or stock footage, the black levels are deep and credible.
  • Color Reproduction: I feel like a broken record here, but outside elf all the stylistic moments, the presentation’s colors are pretty natural and sometimes dull throughout.  However, as I made note of above, if you step outside here, be prepared to be dazzled.  One scene in the second film for instance is a perfect example of what I mean here when the 12-year-old version of Joe, adorned in a vibrant red jacket, lays amongst the strawy fields and rich, green vegetation.  So in other words, fluctuations in color and contrast do arise throughout the films depending upon the scene and elements employed.
  • Flesh Tones: I have zero complaints and no nitpicking observations to make here.  Across both films, the skin tones were always natural and realistic looking throughout.
  • Noise/Artifacts: You’ll obviously have artifacts, etc. in the stock footage employed here and there throughout the films, but other than that the prints are free from specks, noise and anything else that would distract you from enjoying these features on Blu-ray.

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There’s not an awful lot going on in this one.  Wait!  Let me back up.  Of course there’s a lot going on story wise, but nothing that would warrant a booming surround track.  So I have to work with what I am given here so hopefully I make the best of it below for you all.

  • Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
  • Dynamics: Dynamics are quite limited here.  This is isn’t an action movie so loudness isn’t an issue…UNLESS…it’s a Rammstein song invading your picture.  The frequent loud song pops up here and there, but for the most part these two features are pretty quiet ones so I struggled to judge effectively because of that.
  • Low Frequency Extension: The LFE is rather prominent and robust in the loud moments like…the Rammstein track and songs employed enthusiastically just to make sure you’re paying attention.  Haha.
  • Surround Sound Presentation: Since things are not really supposed to go zinging by you or all around you there’s really not much to discuss here.  Rears are quietly employed for atmosphere mostly.
  • Dialogue Reproduction:  Given that the nature of the film is that of the drama genre, it should come as no surprise to learn that dialog is clear and fluent throughout the two volumes.

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It’s with greatness sadness that I report that there are no Digital Copies or redemption codes within this Blu-ray package to brag about.  If you want to bring this one on the road with you, then you’re either going to have to pony up and buy it again in you favorite digital flavor or jump one of those cheap Samsung BD players and promote the Blu-ray format wherever you go.  Represent yo!  But for all of us stuck with this US Blu-ray edition (the UK seems to have different ones and more in terms of bonus supplements) what you get here is each of the films housed on their own separate Blu-ray discs, complete with their own respective extras too.  It’s my job now to dissect all of these for you.  Let’s tackle them below, disc-by-disc.  What say you?

Disc 1

  • The Characters (HD, 9:39) – Mixed with footage from the film, the actors spend some time talking about the various characters in the film here.
  • AXS TV: A Look at Nymphomaniac (HD, 3:02) – The actors talk about what the film is about (some thought provoking stuff here), but most of this is repeated in the other bonus features here.  The actors also talk about the character of Joe here too.
  • Trailer (HD, 1:47) – This is the trailer for Nymphomaniac: Volume I.

* Disc 2

  • The Director (HD, 8:50) -I’m not a huge fan of Shia at all anymore, but he gives some great words of wisdom in this one with some brutally honest remarks.  He talks about his character and how he had sent a picture of his pen1s over in 20 minutes to Lars.  I like the one saying tossed around here about jealousy plus lust equal love.  That’s a very deep and thought provoking way to look at things.  It was interesting to find out that the script wasn’t written in English so some of the translations were sort of lost joke-wise.
  • The Sex (HD, 7:13) – The actresses who play Joe talk about the “not” having real sex part of their filming.  Charlotte talks about the flesh and how it’s necessary for the film.  Stellan even chimes in (gotta love this guy’s insight in these extras) that this film is human behavior with body parts you normally don’t see.  They also discuss the prosthetic genitals as well as working with the porn doubles and the various positions that they had to compensate for.  This one is probably my favorite extra of the bunch for obvious reasons.  LOL.
  • Trailer (HD, 1:45) – This is the trailer for Nymphomaniac: Volume II.

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Long story short I’m not upset that I spent four plus hours of my life watching these two Blu-ray discs, but man oh man was it a chore at times to get through.  It’s not the most upbeat of stories and neither is it the most prettiest of sights onscreen either, but I digress.  The real important factor is whether or not you are a fan of this film.  While it’s quite light on supplemental features, actually very light (hence the reason why it brought down the overall score here), there’s no doubt in my mind that these volumes can’t look and sound any better than they do here home on the Blu-ray format.  I hope that instills a little comfort in anyone on the fence interested in picking this one up.  However, if this is your first time, a rental would be highly recommended first unless you can find an outstanding price for this one.  I’m not saying this because it’s a bad movie, quite the contrary.  I’m just saying this solely because of the fact that Nymphomaniac: Volume I and Volume II may not be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea.  Take that for what it’s worth.  For anyone interesting in picking this one up now at Amazon’s everyday lowest price, please hit up the July 8th pre-order link below.  Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the shows!


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