Lars Von Trier's 'Nymph()maniac' Is Uncomfortable But Thought-Provoking

Director Who 'Understands' Hitler Gets Under Skin Again

By Jay Michaelson

Published April 14, 2014.

(page 2 of 3)

It’s even like clipping one’s fingernails. Right-handed hedonists clip the left hand first, because it’s easier – to Joe, this is obvious. Right-handed ascetics clip the right hand first to get the harder work out of the way; this is Seligman’s method.

What becomes clear, over the course of Nymph()maniac, is that sex is, for Joe and perhaps for us, about everything, and everything is about sex. Freud’s theory of children being polymorphously perverse is invoked late in the film, and it seems to be validated for adults as well. Even the punctuation at the center of the film’s title is meant to evoke the female genitalia. Now, if you saw that yourself, does that make you sophisticated or depraved?

In asking these sorts of questions, Nymph()maniac raises all three conundrums about von Trier that I raised a moment ago.

First, there is the question of Judaism. Readers of this publication may recall that, two years ago, von Trier gave yet another absurd, provocative interview in which he said, among other things, “What can I say? I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely. … He’s not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him, and I sympathize with him a little bit. But come on, I’m not for the Second World War, and I’m not against Jews.”

This was too much, of course, for the Jewish “watchdogs” that help us sort bigots from the just. We’re not allowed to have complicated thoughts about Hitler; we’re only allowed to have one thought. So von Trier was roasted, and duly apologized, although he later appeared to recant the apology.

As well he should have. As an intellectual and an artist, of course von Trier wants to try to understand evil; it’s what he does in most of his films. He also explained that he’d recently learned his actual father was a German, not the Jewish man he had known as his father. And that he was joking. Or whatever.

The Judaism in Nymph()maniac is far more interesting than identity politics. Seligman is, in part, an anti-Jewish cliché: he is the desensualized, feminized Jewish man who stands apart from life, rather than living it. Only at the very end of the film does he seem to possess a libido, and even then, he explains it as a matter of intellectual curiosity.

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