Picking up right where Volume I left off, the latter half of von Trier’s at-times maddening descent into the psyche of a the titular addict is a considerably weaker continuation. Chronicling Joe’s ceaseless pursuit of sexual gratification as the physical possibility of it dwindles, Volume II occasionally embraces contrivance as the adult chapters of her life unfold before our eyes. Still confiding in the asexual Seligman, it soon becomes apparent that Joe’s insatiable desires and subsequent recklessness could, should and would land her in the battered state she’s currently in.
As Nymphomaniac‘s first installment played intelligibly as a more-than-worthwhile origins story – an exceptional, moreover involving dissection of Joe’s physio and psychological evolution – Volume II more often than not falls victim to rote predictability. Although this might ring a bit inevitable, von Trier noticeably and consistently ramps up the general air of discomfort coinciding with certain sequences, of which are collectively benchmarked by unflinching bouts of S&M. Do these moments serve a purpose? Surely, as Joe’s last-ditch mentality regarding her loss of sensation should conceivably plop her here, however it all reeks of von Trier’s typically sensationalist singularity, his imagination assuredly running wild as familiar scenarios are taken to gratuitous extremes.
This isn’t to say that the film’s intentions are in vain, especially considering what’s touched upon regarding the wide-reaching existential repercussions of Joe’s habits. From familial disintegration to denouncing sobriety, a palpable emotional heft does intermittently coincide with certain events until a question latter act career change occurs. Intrigue takes a backseat to these moments as Joe’s increasingly bizarre devotion to her new craft and adoption of P (Mia Goth) take a turn for the worse, her questionable relationship with said teenager throwing a proverbial wrench in the works as it proves to do more harm than good.
Despite von Trier’s imaginative and technical proclivity remaining front-and-center once again, Nymphomaniac: Volume II‘s glaring flaws outweigh that of its immediate predecessor’s strengths. Bloated in relation to the narrative’s straightforward trajectory, the situations presented serve mostly to shock as familiar subjectivity falls victim to the auteur’s maintenance of his reputation. There are still glimmers of modest genius here and there as the script devolves into alternating bits of absurdity and poignance, and while certain attributes are laudable based on their sheer inventiveness, it’s hard to look past the strained presentational excess they tend to provide.