The second and final volume of Nymphomaniac solidifies the overall enterprise as a masterpiece and a significant contribution to the canon of its creator, Danish writer, director, and provocateur Lars von Trier. Though few might describe Volume I as a gentle or romantic film, it is compared to the conclusion, which is in many ways more brutal, more decadent, more desperate, and laced with even more macabre humor. We saw self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and, as a teenager and university student, Stacy Martin, come of age and discover her enormous, out-of-control sexuality. We saw her first encounters with love and also with the degenerate and the mad. Now we pursue her into underworlds both sexual and downright criminal, precipitating a final spiral into disorder. As she ages and tries to maintain a domestic life as a wife and mother, her desire is complicated by a more potent dimension of self-hatred and shame, and she is forced to question whether she has or even deserves a place in mainstream society. There are also still moments of bold and playful provocation, including an episode which finds Joe alone in a hotel room with a pair of African brothers arguing in a foreign language. It is a scene which demands we react however we will (based on who are or perhaps where we come from) to the image of a beautiful and frail white female between a pair of muscular, nude men of color and then to interpret our response. There are also mystifying, but intriguing instances of self-reference on the part of the director, including an altered staging of Antichrist's haunting opening sequence.
Now portraying Joe in both the past and the present, the courage and depth of the performance delivered by Gainsbourg comes into focus. This is her third project with von Trier after Antichrist and Melancholia, and the duo now share an undeniable collaborative magic. He has at once punished and elevated her, revealing her as a soulful performer capable of anchoring the extreme spectacles he designs and ensuring humanity is at the forefront despite the audacious concepts and content. Of the many other famous faces gathered to populate this two-part epic, a pair of scene-stealing standouts are introduced in the second volume: Jamie Bell, enigmatic and icy as a dominant sadomasochist, and model Mia Goth in an auspicious acting debut as an isolated and wayward teenager who becomes a protege to Joe in perhaps the film's most disturbing, yet moving storyline, one which gives Joe the chance to regard a reflection of herself (her decisions, her general volatility) in another person, an innocent.
Not least because both volumes are overflowing with metaphors and philosophical asides, Nymphomaniac as a whole will be a film to revisit and contend with for a long time, at least for viewers on its wavelength. If Joe and her sexuality equals the often despairing and nihilistic director and his troubled relationship with the media, then the film is an interesting variation on the redemption story and the implications of the final scenes are devastating and a shade amusing, too.