Day of doom. Armageddon. The apocalypse. I believe you can tell a lot about how a filmmaker sees the world in how they envision its destruction. In recent years, it seems most view it in terms of looting, unprecedented urban and environmental destruction, and survivors only carrying on by exhibiting the worst of human nature.
Picture for a second that you are an alien life form and sitting front and center for Earth’s last minutes, if the certainty of absolute impending annihilation was thrust upon the human race, would you want to watch all the widespread panic, or would you be more interested with how the puny humans below are coping with this knowledge, and all the last, smaller stories that are born.
For director Lars von Trier, he is much more interested in the latter of the two options, and finds ways of incorporating personal apocalypses in many of his films, whether the end of the world for his characters is literal or figurative. Today, April 11th, Cinema Center opens “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” with “Vol. 2” to open next week.
The film follows Joe, who is found beaten in an alleyway at age 50, and she tells the story of her very sexual life to a Good Samaritan. While there is much to celebrate, as well as be appalled by, find funny, and sympathize with Joe’s life as it is recounted over the course of two feature films, the beginning of the film most definitely signifies the end of the world as Joe has known it up until that point.
Von Trier is excellent taking his characters up to points when they cannot progress any more, and then showing what happens when they attempt that one last step. One of his greatest recent films that is streaming on Netflix, and provides a perfect complement to “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1” is “Melancholia” from 2011. The film stars Kirsten Dunst as Justine, a depressed woman living with her sister’s family when a rogue planet is going to collide with Earth, ending life on the planet.
In “Melancholia,” von Trier’s take on the end of the world resembles more of the Greek translation of apocalypse, meaning knowledge of something that was hidden. Justine, through her depressed state, is able to find an almost unnerving calm about the end of life on Earth. While her family panics in their own ways about the planet’s demise, Justine becomes a stabilizing force, and exhibits strength when perhaps it is put to it greatest use. When Earth’s collision with the rogue planet, Justine faces it with grace, and does not turn from it.
While it takes nearly all of “Melancholia” for Justine to realize she needn’t look away from the inevitable, Joe in both volumes of “Nymphomaniac,” never looks away throughout the entire saga. The apocalypse for Joe, is not so much a question of if she will change her ways, but whether she even needs to entertain the notion. The end of the world for Joe is playing by someone else’s rules.
Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 opens today at Cinema Center.
Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2 opens April 18th
Jonah Crismore is the Executive Director of Cinema Center and hopes you will take a chance with Nymphomaniac, even though it is rated NC-17.