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Dark Like Blood

Nymphomaniac

"But they're not free; that's what matters!"
Lars Von Trier's Manderlay (2005)

Points of Reflection

Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac (2013)

1. consider the opening minutes of the film, the nearly four minutes of near-silence in which only the sound of rainwater disrupts the calm, followed by heavy metal music as Seligman is introduced.  Why might von Trier open the film this way?

2. Seligman finds Joe beaten and abandoned, and takes her into his house instead of passing her by.  Should he be classed as a “good Samaritan”? (For the Biblical reference, see Luke 10:25-37)

3. almost immediately after arriving at Seligman’s place, Joe asserts that she is a “bad human being,” only to have Seligman deny the very notion of such a thing.  Does the film’s tale implicitly support Joe’s perspective on morality, or Seligman’s?

4. before beginning her story, Joe warns Seligman that her tale is not only “long” but “moral, I’m afraid.”  Is the film itself “moral”?  Has von Trier embedded it with a moral lesson?

5. consider von Trier’s characterization of Joe’s father and mother.  Do their varying styles of parenting help explain Joe’s temperament and behavior patterns, or does her upbringing seem irrelevant to the woman she becomes?

6. is the ash tree, as described intermittently by Joe and by her father, an apt symbol for Joe herself?

7. do Seligman’s attempts to compare Joe’s and B’s serial seductions on a train to fly fishing seem apropos?

8. does von Trier’s story require him to cast the male sex as more sexually unscrupulous than they actually are?  This subjective question obviously begs for the reader to consider her/his own understanding of and experience with men . . .

9. Joe explains that the “Little Flock” of girls formed by her and B were “committed to combat [their] love-fixated society,” that they chanted “Mea vulva, mea maxima vulva” to the “Devil’s Interval” (i.e. harmonic interval created by musical notes B and F). How successful are these young women at dodging the lure of love?

10. Seligman somehow intuited that Joe’s story would be about nymphomania before her tale actually became explicit, and later hears the tritone of the musical notes B and F (the so-called “Devil’s Interval”) in her story without her singing it aloud.  Is there a reasonable explanation for how/why Seligman intuits such things?

11. Joe claims that “For every hundred crimes committed in the name of love, only one is committed in the name of sex.”  Does the film interrogate, or support, this conclusion?

12. Joe felt humiliated by the process of falling love, and avers that love “appeals to the lowest instincts, wrapped up in lies.”  Does her definition of “love” correspond to any with which you are familiar?

13. what does Joe mean by the assertion that, “[f]or me, nymphomania was callousness.”

14. chapter four, entitled “Delirium,” opens with Seligman’s explaining how Edgar Allan Poe died, amidst a hallucination-filled fit of delirium tremens triggered by withdrawal from the alcohol to which he was addicted.  The narrative that Joe goes on to provide, however, does not appear to have anything to do with withdrawal from addiction: quite the opposite.  Why, then, label this section “Delirium”?

15. why might von Trier have chosen to render chapter four in black-and-white?

16. Joe appropriates Seligman’s observation about multi-melody polyphony in Bach’s music to describe the three key figures in her sexual repertoire following her father’s death.  Does this trio of lovers (she has many others, but these are the central ones) help her create and sustain a kind of joy-filled, harmonious life?

17. Joe appears to swing back and forth on the issue of whether her compulsion to have sex regularly, and with many different men, is a destructive addiction or not.  What does the film, taken as a whole, seem to suggest?

18. does Joe’s exploration of masochism provide her with that which she seeks?

19. is Joe a “good” mother?  (Define your terms.)

20. does Joe’s relationship with a young, female protégée constitute abuse and/or selfish manipulation?

21. compare and contrast the separate conclusions reached by Seligman and Joe after she has concluded her tale.

22. the line “fill all my holes” recurs towards the end of the film, once Joe is lying, beaten and abandoned, on the ground.  Do these words now signify something non-sexual?

23. perform a character analysis of Seligman in light of his final actions in the film.


Mannequin (1926-27)
"Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Metres Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, Homage to Rothko" Version 2" (1976)
oil on canvas
Salvador Dalí



Dr. Paul Marchbanks
pmarchba@calpoly.edu