Some thoughts on the structure of Nymphomaniac – sidestepping comments on some truly bizarre performances including Shia LaBeouf, whose accent genuinely provoked laughs from the audience I sat amongst.
With his tongue still firmly in cheek, Lars von Trier continues to try and shock audiences as he explores female sexuality in the early stages of a young nymphomaniac’s life – humorous for the first volume at least until it starts to run dry. Drifting from the more serious, though it certainly retains a level of dramatic darkness, von Trier plays with the audience as he his known to do and tries for shock so blatantly at points that it begins to feel like a parody of his own style.
The crowd I sit with in this odd Friday matinee, while the sun shines bright outside, is made up of mostly guys on their own. A few couples and the odd scattering of fems but predominantly men on their own. I am one of them. Still this is strange – I feel strange. Whether through discomfort from the subject matter, or from the lack of give in the material of our collective crotches, there is a lot of shuffling between laughs. Alan Moore, author of graphic novel The Lost Girls which would perhaps fall under the self-same categorisation, has commented on the idea of ‘intellectual pornography’: that it is a difficult feat that has to fight for the blood to rush to either of the brains; that you will ultimately be stimulated on one level only. Men anyway. Us lone men fidgeting in the dark. So maybe von Trier has an alibi for the film not satisfying audiences intellectually…
What I found intriguing about Nymphomaniac was its place in the context of von Trier’s films as subverting the form of storytelling and preventing escapism.
The mainstream romantic-comedy has steadily become saturated with genre conventions and narrative devices that seem to have shaped audience expectation. A formulaic love story that relies on certain narrative hooks and character details that become almost interchangeable. This is made more noticeable by the sub-genre trends that seem to overlap as they reflect current attitudes – think the few rom-coms released in 2010 that centred on artificial insemination. The films do not not disappoint rather they play out just as suggested in the trailer. While every genre has its conventions, two recent romantic-comedies Friends With Benefits (Gluck, 2011)and (500) Days of Summer (Webb, 2009) seem to bring attention to, and in some cases overtly criticise, the tendencies of the genre. Most importantly though both films offer the promise of no ordinary love story… and both films break that promise.
Recently more films have been challenging the conventions of the romantic-comedy genre, moving away from the uniform portrayal of heterosexual, Caucasian, materialist archetypes. The anomalous box-office success Bridesmaids (Feig, 2011)was viewed as a breakthrough for depicting stronger more rounded female characters – perhaps an affectation of actually being written by women. Although this film challenged certain Hollywood clichés and stereotypes it also appeared to reinstate and reaffirm others – such as the heterosexual, Caucasian materialist. (more…)
Dwight (Macon Blair) is a simple man of few words, who sets out to even the score when he discovers that the man charged with the murder of his parents is soon to be released from prison. Returning to his rural Virginia hometown in his run-down car, Dwight hunts down the freed murderer to exact his revenge. There is little time to process the events however as he immediately becomes the subject of another retaliatory hunt, and thus the inevitable cycle of revenge prevents escape for anyone involved.
Unlike Drive (2011), which had a sleek and purposefully silent Ryan Gosling as its anti-hero, Dwight just doesn’t really have anything to say. Where Gosling was a professional stunt-driver, Dwight is in fact homeless and lives in his car – the titular blue ruin which is seen rusted and riddled with bullet holes. He has nothing else and as such has nothing to lose. As a result, Dwight’s vacuous nature is given a volatile edge that keeps you in prolonged suspense.
Sudden moments of violence take you by surprise in their spontaneity as well as their graphic detail. They create a sense of unpredictability that keeps you in the moment and immersed in the tension, whilst dwelling on the results of violence that are usually glossed over in cinema. This is a film that revels in the complications and failures that stem from revenge.
Dedicated purely to his pursuit, Dwight can make you feel locked out and lacking any real connection with him. However, perhaps for this very reason, it feels genuine – believable almost. Almost. Comedic relief comes eventually in the form of Ben (Devin Ratray) an old school friend who decides to help Dwight without asking too many questions – not that he would get much from him anyhow.
Blue Ruin’s masterful element is in its moments of comedy that punctuate the bleakness. A sigh of relief before you return to the dark reality of the film. Though it is tough to connect with Dwight, the naturalism of the story and its cleverly reserved delivery keep you captivated.