It’s almost Christmas, which means it’s time for all kinds of great year-end countdowns. Christmas means spending time with loved ones, getting hammered, and binge-watching movies and television, at least for me. With a new year and lots of new disgusting, demented content around the corner, it’s time for Dark Side Cinema’s Top Five of 2014. These are the five most depraved, disturbing bits of film that I’ve enjoyed and/or endured that came out this year. To be included in this list, the film had to have a 2014 U.S. release date and fit the general Dark Side Cinema criteria. In addition to being disturbing, each of these films offers up a little something extra, a Christmas present for one type of disturbing cinema fan or another.
The List So Far:
Without further ado, here is Dark Side Cinema’s Disturbing Movies of the Year, Number Four:
Unrated – Germany and Denmark
Lars Von Trier is really good at making movies that make his viewers feel gross. Whether he uses vicious genital violence (Antichrist) or dread so thick you can choke on it (Melancholia), Von Trier is a feel-bad-movie champion. His most recent work, the two-part Nymphomaniac, is no different.
Nymphomaniac uses a frame narrative to deliver its story: Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) finds Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying bloody and beaten in the alleyway near his apartment. He takes her back to his place, gets her cleaned up, and she begins to tell him the story of how she arrived in the alleyway, going all the way back to her childhood. He routinely interrupts her to add in his own thoughts or ideas on her story, often describing the themes and motifs presented to the audience as well as Joe. It feels like a “Dummy’s Guide to Symbolism”. While it is an interesting experiment in telling the audience how to interpret the story, it also comes off as incredibly pretentious. Then again, it’s Von Trier, and pretentiousness should be expected.
The film focuses most of its imagery on trees and Fibonacci numbers, and everything is filmed so critically and coldly that none of the sex actually feels sexy. Joe is a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac and she has never seen the wrong in her desire to constantly have sex. She claims her sexuality as an integral part of herself and doesn’t back down when anyone challenges that notion, which should feel liberating but doesn’t. This wants to be a movie about feminism and reclaiming female bodies, but it falls short in several places.
Joe is a fascinating character, although I found young Joe (Stacy Martin) more likeable than her older counterpart. In Martin there is still a joy in the sexual acts she engages in, and even when things go wrong she seems to be above it all, amused by base human emotions like jealousy. Gainsbourg comes off as overly-entitled and selfish. It also doesn’t help that Martin ages into Gainsbourg and her male counterpart, Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf) stays the same until the very end of Part Two. LaBeouf manages to be amazing as long as his mouth is closed – he stalks like a wounded predator and has an intensity that can’t be matched. Then he tries to talk and it’s all over. LaBeouf tries to use a ridiculous British accent and it absolutely ruins whatever chance he had at being good in this movie. It’s a shame, too, because there was potential.
There are some really great moments in the film. Early on in Joe’s experiments with having multiple lovers on a schedule, she accidentally convinces one of her older beaus to leave his wife and children for her. He returns to her apartment with the wife and kids following behind. His wife (the magnificent Uma Thurman) wants to show her children the bed that made Daddy leave the family and she sits everyone down to sit and have coffee and chat about the new situation. The doorbell rings and Joe’s next suitor on the schedule, a young redhead, walks right into this perfect little hell. It’s awkward, it’s kind of funny, and it’s brutally uncomfortable.
The only truly genuine relationship that Joe seemed to have with anyone was with her father (Christian Slater). The film is divided into chapters and an entire chapter, in black and white, is devoted to his gradually decreasing health and eventual death. This chapter, Delirium, was more emotionally taxing than the rest of the movie combined. This is Von Trier at his best, taking what scares us (losing a loved one) and making it stark and in your face, forcing Joe to come to terms with a life without her father.
Joe’s story of sexual deviancy gets more and more depraved as the film goes on, which is to be expected. The tenuous friendship she begins to form with Seligman is one of the driving forces of the film, as Seligman is asexual and cannot understand Joe’s insatiable sex drive.
On the topic of sex… there is a lot of it. Joe involves herself with a great number of men and performs a variety of sex acts, ranging from bathroom hookups on a train to BDSM to foot worship and more. The sex scenes were not shot to titillate and instead most of them leave the viewer feeling either despair or revulsion (or, in some cases, boredom). The viewer watches Joe have sex in a completely detached way , and when everything is on display over and over again it becomes sort of stale. Von Trier attempts to up the ante with the BDSM chapter and only really confirms that, hey, it’s just sex.
Jamie Bell is stellar as K, the sadist who instructs Joe in the world of BDSM. He names her “Fido”, makes her create her own implements of torture, and informs her that “there is no safe word”. He is colder and more detached than even Gainsbourg, but he does it in a way that makes him interesting and mysterious instead of disaffected.
Part Two is definitely more violent and disturbing than Part One, with the exception of the utterly depressing Delirium chapter in Part One.
The final few minutes of Part Two is what really cinched this movie as a Top Five contender – it completely destroys any chance of hope left in the film’s viewer. It is at once brilliant and infuriating, and those few minutes make up for any of the time that felt wasted in the previous four hours.
Violence: 3/10. Not particularly violent. There are moments of sexual violence and one particularly nasty bit near the end, but this is the kind of movie that doesn’t need gore to ruin your lunch.
Sex: 11/10. Oh come on, it’s called Nymphomaniac. What do you think it’s about? Bunnies?
Entertainment value: 4/10 It’s slow in places, terribly pretentious, and sometimes it’s just plain boring, but there are moments that make the film worth it. When it’s good, it’s fantastic. Otherwise, it’s dull.
This movie is for: Arthouse fans. That’s it. You’ve gotta really love artsy films to enjoy this one.
Overall rating: 5/10 I like about half of the movie, split between the two Parts. There are some really emotionally stirring bits and the ending absolutely crushed me, but overall I don’t think it’s something I would watch again. It will forever be lodged into my subconscious, however, and that earns it a spot on this list.