Blu-Ray Review- Nymphomaniac Volumes I & II
Distributor: Magnolia Home Entertainment
Street Date: July 8th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Color/B&W, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime(s): Volume I- 117 Minutes, Volume II- 124 Minutes
“In matters of sexuality we are at present, every one of us, ill or well, nothing but hypocrites.” –Sigmund Freud
Director Lars Von Trier is one of the most unique and brilliant filmmakers working today. A controversial figure, yes, but a man whose willingness to examine the darker side of humanity is unmatched in cinema. I first came across his work in 1996 with Breaking the Waves, and was left stunned and fascinated by the raw subject material, gorgeous cinematography, and the thought provoking and discussion inducing aftermath produced by cinema of that nature. With Antichrist, Melancholia, and now Nymphomaniac, I believe we are experiencing the Director’s finest work of his career thus far. The story of Nymphomaniac is split across two separate volumes, which I will discuss below.
Volume I– In the first part of Von Trier’s sexual odyssey, we are introduced to Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), found beaten and bruised in an alleyway by the kind Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). Seligman takes the emotionally and physically broken Joe back to his apartment to mend, where she begins to recount her life story to him. As a child and young adult, Joe was immediately aware of her sexuality and growing need to push the limits when it came to exploring her natural impulses and obtaining her “fix” with men. Her Doctor Father (a stellar Christian Slater) remained the one adult she trusted and loved unconditionally, and served as a peaceful meditative man who not only allowed her to be herself, but remained the only stable relationship throughout her troubled youth. As Joe recounts her various sexual and emotional odyssey’s to Seligman including: her disappointing first time with the handsome Jordan (Shia Labeouf), a race of sorts to have sex with the most men on a train before it reaches its destination, as well the crippling death of someone near and dear to her, Seligman listens intently and creates analogies and reasoning behind her behavior.
Volume I is a near masterpiece on so many levels. The performances are heartfelt and raw, and Joe’s story, though devastating, is endlessly captivating. The discussion and interplay between Joe and Seligman is just as fascinating as Joe’s story itself, providing thought provoking conversations and observations on sexuality itself. The visuals, though graphic, are executed with shocking intensity and realism, and are central to the nature of the story and impact that Von Trier hopes to create on the viewer. Brilliant!
Volume II- The second part of our story begins with Joe’s frustration, devastation, and eventual desperate attempts to restore her seemingly lost sexuality. Without revealing too much, the lengths that she goes to satisfy her addiction are downright terrifying, and the choices she makes harken back to why she has been insisting she is a “terrible person” to Seligman all along. This second volume examines her desperation at length, from involving multiple partners in her endeavors, introducing violence through sadomasochism and bondage, and even taking on a young protégé to introduce to her ways. Volume II’s path is a dark one, and if I’m being honest here, is far less captivating than the first volume. There is many times where you may find yourself looking away from the screen, or feeling the need for a hot shower. The depths of despair depicted here are downright sickening, but the end result does indeed bring our story full circle, and provides for a dark yin-yang effect in contrast to the somewhat “lighter” first act by comparison.
Though I personally appreciated the journey of Volume I more than the dark foray that became Volume II, Lars Von Trier has without a doubt created a cinematic opus unlike any other. This film will shock and disturb its viewers, while at the same time providing you with a tale that you will not forget. It’s absolutely unlike anything I have ever seen on film before, and that has to count for something.
Magnolia Home Entertainment has delivered the goods when it comes to a fine video presentation. Fine object detail in facial features, clothing, and scenery is crystal clear on this transfer. Colors look appropriately tuned to the Director’s intended color scheme, black levels are solid and inky, and the gorgeous yet haunting visuals all around look pristine in High Definition.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is another standout aspect to this Blu-Ray edition. Dialogue always comes through clear, music is naturally dynamic and dispersed evenly throughout the system, and background noise is subtle and balanced.
Magnolia Home Entertainment has included some worthwhile special features for this High Definition release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included.
- The Characters: This featurette runs over 9 minutes and has the cast discussing their respective characters in the film, their relationships, flaws, and strengths. The talent involved appears thankful that they had such a brilliant script to work with, and were allowed the creative freedom to collaborate with their Director.
- AXS TV: A Look at Nymphomaniac– This is a short, 3 minute promo for the film, and includes recycled interview footage from the other featurettes included on these discs.
- Nymphomaniac Volume I Trailer– The theatrical trailer for Volume I, presented in High Definition.
- The Director- This featurette runs over 8 minutes and features various cast members including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia Labeouf, Stellan Skarsgard and more discussing how they became involved in Nymphomaniac, as well as Director Lars Von Trier’s unique way of inviting them to be a part of his film. Von Trier is notably absent, as he has shied away from interviews and featurettes since the Cannes incident.
- The Sex- This one runs over 7 minutes and features the cast discussing the special effects trickery involved in the sex scenes from the film. No actual intercourse occurred during the film, despite what you may have heard. The actors involved discuss their emotions and anxieties going into certain scenes, as well as the comfort level they felt in the hands of an assured director like Lars Von Trier.
- Nymphomaniac Volume II Trailer- The theatrical trailer for Volume II, presented in High Definition.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition for Nymphomaniac Volume I & II features the disturbing “Brady Bunch”-esque poster design featuring many of the talent involved in various states of orgasm. It fits quite well with the tone of the film. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis for each Volume along with select special features and technical specifications. On the inside of the case, there is a Blu-Ray disc for each volume with the fishing hook and whip design for the discs.
I’m a big fan of Director Lars Von Trier’s body of work, and I’m hard pressed to think of a more unique individual making motion pictures today. With that being said, Nymphomaniac as a whole is a mixed bag experience. Filmed with plenty of visual style and innovation, with an endlessly captivating yet disturbing story, I thought Volume I was a near masterpiece, while Volume II’s dark excess turned me off (pun intended) quite a bit. It’s clearly intentional, as all aspects of sexuality are explored and nothing is off limits. For that, I can appreciate the artistic intentions, but feel that my disappointment with Volume II remains legitimate. The Blu-Ray edition of Nymphomaniac looks outstanding in High Definition, and the audio experience is equally as impressive. Special Features are fine, if a bit light, as I assume a Special Edition might be in the works for a later release. I recommend it for those who are willing to experience a very different kind of cinema.
-Pete Macabre (“Film Fan” Pete)
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