Very much part of, rather than a sequel, to Nymphomaniac Vol. I, Nymphomaniac Vol. II is a much darker and therefore less appealing affair. Where Vol. I had a sense of playful lust about it Vol. II descends into a quagmire of abuse that while engaging is so frustratingly von Trier it’s hard not to be a little turned-off by the whole venture.
Continuing her story from the first film Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) informs her saviour Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) that her sexual exploits began to take her down increasingly dark paths. Now living with her only love from the first film Jerôme (Shia La Beouf), young Joe (Stacy Martin) is unable to achieve orgasm and discovers the potential solution in the form of sadomasochist K (Jamie Bell). But so desperate is she for K’s attention she neglects her and Jerôme’s young son with almost disastrous consequences. Alone again Joe finds herself in the employment of L (Willem Dafoe) who encourages her to take on a young protégé in the shape of P (Mia Goth) who sparks something in Joe she long thought dead.
Unlike Vol. I there is something preachy about Nymphomaniac Vol. II von Trier is never one to remain silent when he feels there is something of importance to say but here the scenes between Joe and Seligman take on a soapbox type medium. Their interactions filled with Joe’s outspoken ideas that scream of von Trier’s reaction to his ‘person non grata’ banishment at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. All too often we’re exposed to von Trier’s rhetoric on society, dialogue such as “Human qualities can be described in one word; Hypocrisy. We elevate those who say right but mean wrong and mock those who say wrong but mean right” feel distinctly personal to von Trier and as a result Joe’s story, and the main reason we’re here after Vol. 1, begins to fade into something more obscure. If there is any doubt that Joe is a vessel into which Von Trier is pouring himself it is made abundantly clear when she begins to refer to her “rebellious nature”.
That said the dissection of Joe’s nymphomania is still fascinating even if at times it is clouded by other ideas. The moment Joe enters a sex addicts anonymous group you feel that maybe she has turned a corner but you always wonder if Joe is, or ever was, a bonafide sex addict. Indeed as Seligman points out towards the end of the film, had Joe been a man he would almost certainly not have been subject to the stigma that Joe is so ready to label herself with. Is Joe a bad person for having a heightened sexual appetite and desire or for exploring other avenues of pleasure? Probably not, it just so happens that some of her sexual adventures have caused others emotional suffering but there is always a sympathetic quality to her character.
While the visuals of the first film remain it does seem that, along with the tone, Vol. 2 has darkened. The climax descends into a series of coincidences and character twists that, despite von Trier happy to point them out as such, never sit well. If anything von Trier highlighting them feels like an attempted excuse rather than just allowing them to drift into the background.
Less satisfying than the first film, Nymphomaniac Vol. II is still a typically dark analysis of a human condition that while fascinating is often soured by the sound of von Trier’s own voice booming through the subtext of the whole affair.