Nymphomaniac ★★★★½

4-hour cut, hacked (not inelegantly) in two

Want to get some thoughts down while my mind is still buzzing.

A distended joke told masterfully—like Lars is doing his own version of "The Aristocrats" with the dirty stuff (instinctual, impulsive) filtered through a sincerely cerebral (intellectual) framework. The punchline explodes it all, of course, in ways that feel to me like Philip Roth's exit from Portnoy's Complaint. (The real work—if indeed there is real work to do—hasn't even begun.) That doesn't negate the four hours of throat-clearing (and deep throating) that precedes it. It does align Lars with the prankster qualities I find so endearing in Carlos Reygadas.

I'd avoided LvT after Dogville (2003) drove me up the wall. (Though I did give a try to The Element of Crime (1984) and Epidemic (1987), neither of which convinced me he was worth a further delve at that particular moment.) This one renews my interest, in large part because it's such a bewitching polyglot. It ostensibly takes place in the U.K. (Joe mentions "pounds" at one point), but was shot primarily in Germany (echoes of Fassbinder mélo throughout as well as a sublime Rammstein needle drop) and features a Euro-U.S. fusion of across-the-board excellent performers (with well-hung special "Negro" guest stars—provoke, Lars, provoke!).

Somehow everybody fits in: I initially found the much-lauded "Mrs. H" sequence to be the weakest "chapter" since Uma Thurman seemed to be self-consciously stretching. (Few things worse than a performer pushing to the point that you can see the seams.) But that changed once Gainsbourg's Joe name-dropped James Bond and became what I think is Lars' dowdy version of the Amazonian ass-kicker Thurman plays in the similarly cleaved Kill Bill (2003/2004). (Mrs. H's polite-as-can-be upset over being kicked to the curb suddenly resonated. This was her movie once.)

One of the film's many strains is certainly an interrogation of the über-feminized icon that a good number of (typically male) artists create in lip service to empowerment. There's a degree to which LvT is putting himself on trial, as well as having one of his persona non grata-required tantrums. What I appreciate here is the sense of an artist grappling his way through: The surface is so controlled, often didactic and on-the-nose, yet always alluring. (It can't be overstated how perfectly paired Gainsbourg and Skarsgård are in the framing story, a crucial piece of which is all the editorial mismatching that, Fibonacci-like, realigns and re-filters the duo's dueling perspectives as they spiral into infinite depths.) Meanwhile, the subtexts churn and roil—magma perpetually on the verge of an eruption that came for me when Gainsbourg channeled free spirit mother Jane Birkin in her Vol. 2 end credits cover of "Hey Joe." This might be the finest feature-length argument for "edging" ever made.

I was most moved by the Bach "polyphony" discussion, and fascinated at the way the film weaved mathematical exegesis, literary allusion, blasphemous spirituality and the changing tides of musical history into its tale of a hot mess in temporary repose. Really, I think that's what the ending is supposed to signify: Being alive means grabbing all the moments of reflection that you can because soon enough it's back to the fucking.

All this and Udo Kier as a flummoxed waiter, too? Lars found a way to my heart and my heads (upstairs and down).