Hammerle On … 'Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1,' 'Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2'

Robert Hammerle
April 23, 2014
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bob hammerle movie reviewsCondemn these films if need be, but isn’t sex central to our way of life? For example, look at daily TV and watch the way women appear on Fox News shows and ESPN Sports. Furthermore, that sure isn’t Stan Wood in drag giving weather forecasts every evening on Indianapolis TV!

Regardless, starting with “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1,” the viewer watches a man named Seligman, played by the accomplished Stellan Skarsgard, discover a brutally battered young woman lying unconscious in an alley as he walks home. When she refuses his request to call an ambulance or the police, he assists her to his apartment where at least he can be assured that she can take care of herself.

Both films unfold with the two of them remaining in a single room of his domicile, she lying in a bed with him sitting in a chair. Without shame or embarrassment, she readily admits to being a nymphomaniac. Drinking tea, her face badly bruised and still bloody, she politely asks, “Do you want to hear my story?”

Charlotte Gainsbourg is unnervingly understated as Joe, a nymphomaniac with no apologies. She is who she is, describing in occasional detail her sexual exploits over the years with men too numerous to count.

Most of the story of the first film tracks back to her teenage years where she perfected her craft. Don’t consider her to be a prostitute, as money was not an object. Casual sex was what she found profoundly enticing, and she had absolutely no attachment to her partners.

Since these are X-rated films, let me say that the sex is at times brutally aggressive to the extreme. Encounters take place in trains, alleys and bathrooms, and everyone is completely naked. The camera clearly shows that authentic sexual acts are taking place, so let your imagination run completely wild and you will not be surprised.

While the sex is at times mind blowing, which is also the only organ of the body that doesn’t get “blown,” both films are surprisingly held together by the appearance of a friendship that develops between Skarsgard and Gainsbourg. He’ll listen to her stories of sex and she’ll then listen to his stories about his love of music, books and fis


hing. You end up developing a bit of a warm feeling for the two of them. The question is, will it last?

Skarsgard is a busy actor, and his talent has been demonstrated in numerous films. Think of “Dancer in the Dark” (2000); “Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang)” (2001); all three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films (where he played Bootstrap Bill); “Mama Mia” (2008); “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011) and the “Thor” films, where he played the mentally challenged Erik Selvig (2011 and 2013). Need I say more?

Also, keep in mind that recognized actors like Christian Slater, Shia LaBeouf and Uma Thurman appear in small roles in the first film, with LaBeouf and Willem DaFoe appearing in “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2.” Slater plays Joe’s father, and it was rewarding to be reminded that Slater actually has acting talent.

LaBeouf, who I must observe appears in “la buff,” plays Jerome, a central figure in Joe’s life. They both enjoy having sex without rules, and Joe wrestles with the possibility that this may be the one person in the world she truly loves. You discover the answer to that question in the second film, but let’s get to that later.

The most spectacular moment in either film involves Thurman, playing Mrs. H, the wife of a renegade husband who is banging Joe. Confronting her cheating husband and his nymphomaniac squeeze at Joe’s apartment, she drags along her three young boys, all under the age of 10.

What follows is as outrageously funny as it is spectacularly unnerving. Uma will simply not shut up, actively involving her children in her outrage. In one classic moment, she takes her boys into Joe’s bedroom with the words, “Children, would you like to look at the whore’s bed?”

So that you are not misled, the movie starts to lose its cohesiveness in the last 20 minutes of “Vol. 1.” It involves an analysis of Skarsgard’s musical love of Bach combined with Gainsbourg’s vivid recollection on screen of the many penises she has seen in her life. As a criminal defense lawyer, let me simply say that the multiple pictures of men’s genitalia resembled a photo array in a twisted rape case.

In “Vol. 2,” you quickly learn that Joe made a tragic mistake trying to seek a bit of normalcy. She now discovers that the cost of a middle-class life is the loss of the ability to have an orgasm. Few in the audience were surprised!

Looking for an answer, she turns to S&M as the only alternative. There is nothing pretty about this girl’s life, although you eventually do discover what led to her bloody collapse in the alley where Skarsgard discovered her.

Listen, I know that many of you are prepared to simply say, “That’s it, I don’t need to read anymore.” However, that would be a mistake whether you want to hear that or not.

To begin with, the S&M encounters are vicious and brutal, yet unexpectedly successful. Sure, you see Joe being whipped by leather prods as she is tightly strapped over the arm of a couch, naked from the waist down. However, the end result is that it allows her to sexually come back to life.

Despite these films being dominated by sex, they are not erotic in any fashion. While it is easy to condemn Joe’s nymphomaniac past, director Lars von Trier’s films strongly suggest that we could apply that same analysis to most of our pasts. Do any of us live without some form of regret?

More to the point: Is disappointment, tragedy and aging any fundamentally better than the life Joe lived? Combined with the importance of sex, would any of you want von Trier to have Skarsgard and Gainsbourg play your life story?•


Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit The opinions expressed are those of the author.


  • we all have values entailed in our norms
    Nancy, I'm going to respond to your personal character attack in the following manner. First off, your bitter tone, and your implication of cowardice, expose the kind of vindictive mentality that people like you have, and is exactly the kind of insult that justifies my use of nom de plume in the fist place. Secondly, we know what you want. You want to know my name so you and the other would-be commissars can put it on your naughty list. Sorry! I wont take the bait, feel free to call me chicken all you want, but I wasn't born yesterday. In my opinion, you are just as much of a moralizer as I am, but you fool yourself into believing that you are not. Your moral code is "political correctness." It is the hubris of the modern era of relativism, that relativism itself is not normative. We all know that poltical correctness is now being enforced by DCs against lawyers who dissent, and the socalled freedom of speech of "right wingers" is "less equal that others," Decent lawyers have been disciplined for legitimate advocacy which offends political correctness, eg, the Campiti case and others where mention of illegal residency status earns a lawyer a spanking, or some the expression of some other truthful opinion leads to discliplinary witch hunt. Oh, and the persecutions for off-duty private remarks are right around the corner too, aren't they! Next thing the DC will be trying to root out all the Don Sterlings in the bar who dare to choose with whom they will associate. The nomenklatura think THEY are our "moral police" and they are going to "police" certain views about illegal immigration or whatever other bête noir they have in mind at the moment. Lets drop the façade. The notion that government can somehow be values-neutral is false. The Bible thumpers are right. America has a religion-- in the sense that it has a world view, and embodies a certain Enlightenment era values system that specifically rejected the feudal order of Europe. And some traditional social forms and institutions yet live on, long after the surrender of the feudal order at Westphalia. Church, tribe, ethny, family, "gender-identity," etc. All things the Enlightenment is still trying to destroy in its arrogant reconstruction of man along rationalistic lines. I hold to the traditional Christian, even pre-Christian Hellenic notion, that man has a certain form, that it is not arbitrary, that it can be shaped but not fundamentally altered. A tendency to vice is part of that form. Christians call that original sin. Art should elevate virtue, not glorify vice. Art which depicts social pathology ("nymphomania") should not glorify it. This movie is basically porn. There are still a lot of self deluding high brow people out there who want to watch porn and lack the guts to admit their own lack of concupiscence and so they go to see pretentious movies like this instead of just logging into the internet. That to me, is laughable, but to make a movie review out of it was an interesting notion and one that provided an enjoyable occasion for discussion. Thanks to this delightful newspaper and its capable editorial staff!
  • Are You Really Attorneys?
    It seems to me that if one is a movie critic, his job is to see ALL movies, not just those that he or she personally would like to see. I would assume, as some of your respondents have assumed, that the people complaining are right wing individuals who want to be the moral police to the world. There are at least two clues to the movie. First the rating and and then the very title of the movie. Interesting that evidently all chose to read the reviews although they were appalled by it! I also find it most interesting that most did not have the courage of their convictions as they vent vitriol, but cannot give their name. True right-wingers!
    • what if
      What if a person says something true that some people find offensive, like this will somebody try and fine me a million dollars? what if a person says that in public? what about private? is a private opinion safe anymore or is Big Brother always watching now? if they can fine a millionaire like don sterling a couple million dollars then can they fine a millionaire rap star for singing that gangstas ought to go out and kill, rape, and rob white people? I am just asking questions because I want to know the acceptable limits of debate since we obviously all live under different standards of conduct and speech.
    • some animals more equal than others
      He can say he likes porn movies but what if a lawyer says he likes "birth of a nation" by DW Griffiths (Cool hats) or "Triumph of the Will" (more cool uniforms) eh? And I can show you movie critics who say both of those are timeless classics. Or if I recommend a movie that bemoans the plight of the "undocumented worker" that is probably laudable but if I recommend one like "Line in the Sand" that shows sympathy to native born US citizens whose homeland is being invaded by illegal immigrants, I might just lose my license. Since lawyers can't say "illegal immigrant" in the context of legitimate advocacy without getting an 8.4 spanking, we better not say it in a less important context either. Why, it ok if I said it just now? The left calling ideas it doesn't like "hate speech" is itself the first step towards Criminalization of "hate speech" THe First amendment ironically was intended most of all to protect political opinions and yet now it is just to increase the mass media circulation of pornographic filth. This country SUCKS is what I think. THe Soviets were less hypocritical than the lame fake apparatchiks we have here now
    • more agreement
      I take it Hammerle is a died-in-the-wool liberal for any conservative man knows that to pen this sentence would be career death sentence due to ardent accusations of misogyny. "To begin with, the S&M encounters are vicious and brutal, yet unexpectedly successful. Sure, you see Joe being whipped by leather prods as she is tightly strapped over the arm of a couch, naked from the waist down." FYI from Wikipedia: Misogyny /m??s?d??ni/ is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women.[ Hammerle is likely a bigtime lib, and so gets a kitchen pass for such objectivacation of womyn. The legal elite's hypocrisy is without bounds.
    • Agreed
      While i have bristled at some of Bob's choices for review in the past, this article is about 50,000 feet over the top. Porn reviews? What next, gay porn, kiddie porn, beastie porn reviews? Where are the editorial standards for this online resource that is allegedly professional? I do advise that a change be made in Bob's boilerplate, to wit: When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite [BLUE} movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. Kinda like Pee Wee Herman?
    • Inappropriate. Period.
      For a professional publication like the Indiana Laywer to publish reviews of X-rated films is shocking and completely inappropriate.

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    1. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

    2. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

    3. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

    4. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?

    5. Research by William J Federer Chief Justice John Marshall commented May 9, 1833, on the pamphlet The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States written by Rev. Jasper Adams, President of the College of Charleston, South Carolina (The Papers of John Marshall, ed. Charles Hobson, Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006, p, 278): "Reverend Sir, I am much indebted to you for the copy of your valuable sermon on the relation of Christianity to civil government preached before the convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Charleston, on the 13th of February last. I have read it with great attention and advantage. The documents annexed to the sermon certainly go far in sustaining the proposition which it is your purpose to establish. One great object of the colonial charters was avowedly the propagation of the Christian faith. Means have been employed to accomplish this object, and those means have been used by government..." John Marshall continued: "No person, I believe, questions the importance of religion to the happiness of man even during his existence in this world. It has at all times employed his most serious meditation, and had a decided influence on his conduct. The American population is entirely Christian, and with us, Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it. Legislation on the subject is admitted to require great delicacy, because freedom of conscience and respect for our religion both claim our most serious regard. You have allowed their full influence to both. With very great respect, I am Sir, your Obedt., J. Marshall."