Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 Outlook
Nymphomaniac: Vol. I poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published March 18, 2014
Thereís an audience for everything, on some level, and Lars von Trier's few fans are going to be showing up.
Filmmaker Lars von Trier has a small group of fans and even divides them heavily at the art-house. You either really admire what he sets out to do or completely hate him and want to walk out of his pictures. His films are unusual in that itís difficult to be emotionally invested in his stories and it takes a very distinct sensibility to actually care about what is unfolding on the screen. If you like what he does, he scores at least a B grade on the scale, and if you hate what he does, you consider it one of the worst films youíve ever seen and canít believe it actually got produced even for art-house standards. His stories and visions challenge the thinking-crowd and force people to lean closer and pay attention. Some people love that mentality and some people despise that mentality, and I failed so far to like anything he has ever done. I remember seeing his picture Dogville starring Nicole Kidman a few weeks early, which was a stage-play and it was three hours long, and I only had the patience to make it through the first half because there was no way I was going to sit for three hours. I checked the time multiple times, and was looking at the exit sign, and then finally just got up and left.

When I saw Melancholia starring Kirsten Dunst, it wasnít quite as painful but part of that was due to the fact that it was an hour shorter than Dogville and wasnít a stage-play even though I still hated the film. Dogville was about an imaginary small town, set on a theater stage, with a story about a woman who comes across that town with a mysterious past and potentially dangerous intentions. I knew that intellectuals would boldly claim there was vast symbolism and meaning regarding America, but I sat there so bored out of my mind and outraged that it wasnít a real film with locations, that I walked out. Melancholia was about a depressed young girl at odds with her current life when the end of the world was approaching, and there was symbolism connecting depression with roving planets. Lars von Trier is super artsy-fartsy, and while I can approve that approach depending on executions, his visions just donít do it for me and yet I am always up to take another stab with what he comes up with next, so long as it isnít a stage-play caught on film again because I will never take that chance ever again.

His new picture, Nymphomaniac, is a character study with an ensemble of art-house names attached, focused on a woman with a sex addiction problem and analyzes sexual repression. Stories like his are never going to attract in most areas across America, which is why they open up in an exclusive platform in major cities to test how many intellectuals with an open mind take the bait. And Iím willing to bet that his stories have more feverish reactions amongst overseas audiences who are usually more about thinking-pictures and have more patience than America does in unique sensibilities. Some overseas audiences think that America is stupid in what they are willing to watch onscreen, and some American audiences canít believe what overseas audiences are willing to watch onscreen. When an art-house film bombs in America, it always has a chance to recoup with open-minded internationals, and when those films do open internationally, those audiences are happy to have it. There is a decent art-house crowd in America but I think the receptions are usually better overseas.

Watching the trailer for Volume 1 here, it looks like typical Lars von Trier to me but I canít exactly decipher whether Iím going to like it or hate it. I do like the setup and think it is interesting, but Lars can easily screw that up for me once I sit down to watch it, and I think it will attract a decent art-house crowd in Los Angeles and New York and certain other exclusive theaters who do watch his pictures. It does not have mainstream names except for the now-altering-career presence of Shia LaBeouf, who has publically gone on the record in recent time by saying heís not a movie star, never was to begin with, and wants to put mainstream movies behind him because they just arenít risky and rebellious enough.

I think Shia got a little angry when the whole world was getting on him for the last Indiana Jones movie and for going along with Spielbergís vision, and doesnít like the idea of onslaught feedback on him. Shia was listening to worldwide gossip and even expressed it to Spielberg who just told him to shut up. Shia had gone on record saying the movie had sucked and had regretted the decision to make money, and Spielberg couldnít shut him up which lead to the possibility that he wouldnít return in the next Indy. I think the world was in favor of that possibility, and ever since, Shia has only looked at art-house scripts that arenít going to make him that much money and are going to play limitedly. He wants material thatís going to challenge and scare him because thatís the only way he wants to work in business now. In Nymphomaniac, it at least looks like he plays a young guy who falls victim to the womanís sexual urges, and he wanted to work with Lars because the man is basically unlike any other filmmaker. And a little off topic, but I think one of the reasons heís starring in an upcoming Brad Pitt war drama is because Pitt also knows a little thing or two about what itís like to have the entire world gossiping about you. Shia wants a new career now and Nymphomaniac is the second attempt of his to start fresh, following Charlie Countryman which bombed and was pretty bad, and he now wants to impress thinking-crowds.

Reviews are pretty kind so far on this art-house drama but that doesnít mean masses of thinkers are going to show up in top locations. Lars is not a huge per-screen average opener but he does decently. The theater that I saw Melancholia at first weekend grossed double the amount of the weekend average, which means thereís a solid audience at a few theaters and just okay attendance elsewhere. At this theater on the first Saturday, the film sold out three of the four showtimes with 300 people each. Nymphomaniac is opening at the same theater as well and I expect it to nearly match the last figure. Itís going to be the same demographics checking it out who would rather want this than mainstream fare. There is supposedly graphic sex in this film and material that normal studios will never ever green-light.

When the red-band trailer was released online, there were warnings not to watch when youíre at work. Those kinds of warnings will up the enthusiasm amongst risquť attitudes and potentially open the film, and where this film is playing, the demographics always want to watch stuff you canít see at a multiplex. This theater largely attracts a rather freakish West Hollywood crowd who want films to unleash risks. This is where The Rocky Horror Picture Show plays every Saturday at midnight to a full house of weirdoís. At that particular show, the audience is always free to fully participate and abuse the room, and I would know this because I once made the mistake of attending one and am never ever returning. The experience was like being locked up with a bunch of people who couldnít be more annoying, and this connects because Nymphomaniac looks like the kind of film that could attract that audience. Itís not an audience-participation film in comparison, at least I donít think, but the setup sure does sound freakish in its appeal. I can handle freakish depending on the circumstance but most casual-paying audiences donít want it.

To give you an idea of the epic sales weíre dealing with, Lars pulled in $4.0 million domestically with Breaking the Waves, $1.5 million with Dogville, $0.078 million with Manderlay, $0.4 million with Antichrist, and $3.0 million with Melancholia. The overseas totals on each of these adventures were multiples of those figures, proving that American audiences didnít care while internationals wanted it. Youíre only going to get so far in America when your characters are unlike the casual human being. But Lars also happens to be unlike the casual human being, and you can find this out if you want to by watching an online press panel he once did where he admitted to sympathizing with Adolf Hitler. Kirsten Dunst had such a panic attack listening to him speak about it that itís a guilty pleasure for the books. Iím not sure which was more disturbing: hearing the raw honesty or taking enjoyment in Dunstís reaction. On one level I have to hand it to Lars because normally press panels are as uninteresting as it comes, and yet watching him speak about this with such casual conversation kind of lit up a light in my brain. Normally I donít watch the whole thing, and yet there, he immediately got my full undivided attention.

Watching his films is kind of like going through these motions. Even if youíre not liking what youíre seeing, he has this ability to make you glued to the screen to see if what is happening is actually happening; and itís not the believability, itís the gutsiness. You can be completely uninvolved by it and yet completely transfixed by it, which is a gift. Normally bad films just make you want to turn away from it in disgust and yet Lars has this way of sucking you in. You can say to yourself ďI have no idea what youíre trying to do here and I donít like it at all, but wow are you interesting and I canít turn away.Ē Iíve felt that way through all of his pictures and I did turn away from Dogville but only because of its length. For the first hour and a half, I sat transfixed in shocked horror at what I had gotten myself into here, and then reached a point where I experienced enough horror for 90 minutes and wanted to call it quits. Had it been a two hour or under running time, I wouldíve stayed there and just endured the freak show.

Nymphomaniac is in two parts and Volume 2 is coming out shortly, which means Lars is going for his own kind of Kill Bill art-house franchise. Seriously, though, these two filmmakers are kind of similar in that you canít find this stuff on television or even in most films, which is kind of a novelty. Love them or hate them, both Quentin and Lars hand you something thatís different than youíd normally see. The difference is that Quentin has a mainstream eye with insanity and Lars strictly has a weirdo brain. The masses love insane entertainment but theyíre not going to show up to irregular weirdo entertainment. Lars doesnít make entertaining films; theyíre meant as fascinating studies, and most people donít care. Only a handful of people are going to care in certain locations while most everybody else just passes by. Most people wonít even know that the films are coming out and most donít know who Lars von Trier is. Heís not exactly a word of mouth talent; you either see his films the opening weekend or never at all. Heís got a built-in niche of demographics who like it dark, rebellious and risky and doesnít sell outside. Thereís an audience for everything, on some level, and Lars von Trier's few fans are going to be showing up for this.
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'Nymphomaniac: Vol. I' Articles
  • Craig's Nymphomaniac: Vol. I review B+
    March 22, 2014    {Lars von Trier} continuously keeps this film both provocative and moving, and leaves us wondering what Volume 2 could possibly hold. -- Craig Younkin
  • Lee's Nymphomaniac: Vol. I review C
    March 22, 2014    The acting is all fine but as per usual for a Lars von Trier production, I didnít have any emotional investment. -- Lee Tistaert
  • Crowd Report Analysis: Nymphomaniac
    March 22, 2014    In West LA the film enjoyed healthy attendance at its one art-house on opening day and I calculated that it was likely grossing between $6,500 and 7,500. -- Lee Tistaert