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Ask a Pornographer: "Nymphomaniac"

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by Sam Adams
April 11, 2014 1:37 PM
6 Comments
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Nymphomaniac

Although this site has disputed the claim that Lars Von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" is pornography, the charge has apparently been persistent enough that ADULT magazine included a bonafide pornographer among the ad hoc panel it convened to discuss the film. According to his bio, Gabe Gonzalez is "a performer, teacher, and porn producer living in New York" who also "spends his weekends as an instructor at a not-for-profit youth media program in lower Manhattan." (You know how that goes.) His co-panelists are Fairha Roisin, of the podcast "Two Brown Girls" and Sofia Gassieva, who works for the fashion retailer JNBY. Roisin hated the movie(s), and Gassieva wanted her time and money back (I hope ADULT at least reimbursed her for tickets), but Gonzalez is a fan. Here's some of what he had to say:

It features blowjobs for chocolate, hallucinatory child orgasms, and some of the most genuinely boring voice-over dialogue I've ever heard. In short: this is almost the best thing to happen since "Spring Breakers."

I'm convinced "Nymphomaniac" lives in the world of satire, poking fun at the obsessive myth-making we engage in when considering our own sexual proclivities. Honestly, I was expecting a pastiche of "edgy" sex scenes and reductive/tired conversations about shame and sexual desire. But then Uma Thurman went on one of the most bizarre, uninterrupted rampages I've ever seen on film and it all kind of made sense. For all its instances of violence, intimacy, and heightened drama, "Nymphomaniac" never really takes any of it in earnest. 

The orgasm, the "absolute" indication of pleasure, is missing as payoff for the pain. What seems most inconceivable to viewers about Joe -- and what I find emphasizes her character’s comic exaggeration of the “sexually liberated” individual -- is that at first she's into everything, willing to try anything. She has no preferences. Then she achieves that crazy slo-mo orgasm on the edge of the couch against the textbook, and the lashings are justified in the most disappointing and conventional way. She's not the power-bottom taking dick for fun, she’s just trying to cum. There's no room to think about finding pleasure in pain without the orgasm. I don't find this choice as erotic as I do dramatic.

The "Dangerous Men" chapter was pretty much a rom-com makeover montage where Joe tries on all these tired porn tropes until she finds one that fits. There's nothing transgressive or shocking about seeing a white woman framed by two giant black dicks. That image has been immortalized and rehashed in video clips and gifs and Tumblr posts. We laugh because we've seen it before. We stop laughing because we're reminded once again how people of color are exotified and caricatured in porn, in this movie, in our media. I think this is a good thing, if only because we think about the second part. The part where an image is pushed to such an extreme that it slaps you in the face and reminds you how obvious and dumb it is. This is how I would describe good satire. It's what makes "Nymphomaniac" watchable.  

(I forgot to mention Gonzales also went to Brown, but you probably guessed that by now.)


Not only is this hilarious, but it's also one of the sharpest and least knee-jerk judgmental analyses of "Nymphomaniac" I've seen. It's kind of a shame that it takes a producer of pornographic films to point out what so many critics of the film(s) have missed: the "Nymphomaniac" isn't about sexuality -- female or otherwise -- so much as it the way we yoke our desires, sexual and otherwise, to narratives that distort them as often as they explain them. Guess we need to see now how good movie critics are at making porn.
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More: Nymphomaniac, Lars von Trier

6 Comments

  • avi | April 12, 2014 7:21 AMReply

    hmm, no, how does it go??
    "spends his weekends as an instructor at a not-for-profit youth media program in lower Manhattan." (You know how that goes.)

  • Garrick Tippett | April 11, 2014 10:48 PMReply

    Its not released here I haven't seen the film but though I liked the review,Does anyone really doubt that graphic sexual imagery effects anyone.To what extent depends on your personal filter. Does it actually mean anything universal outside all the abstractions of Taboo.Porn is worth exploring because it does have such a universal effect.The problem is it is generically self referential.I should think that it is the point of view and what the camera work tells us of Pov is more important not the narrative as we are trying to communicate an experience unexplained in ourselves except as a reaction. The best that can be hope for is a an intuitive clue.I look forward to that.

  • Jon | April 11, 2014 8:46 PMReply

    Not only is it true that AMERICAN critics have missed: that "Nymphomaniac" isn't about sexuality. It's also embarrassing they call themselves critics, as well as that you see this as hilarious. What I find hilarious is that you are deemed worthy to write tripe like this, though I welcome the refreshment from the tired old drab about how they used porn doubles or prosthetics. That's like having a criticism of the Godfather that talks about the tailoring of men's suits and period cars they used. Riveting stuff guys.

    How about an article about storks and how mommy and daddy make children?

  • Jose Alberto | April 11, 2014 4:31 PMReply

    I understand its narrative, and how a young girl tells an old guy the more obscure passages of her life. But a sick person will never recognize and will never open up saying that he/she is sick, an alcoholic, a smoker, a drug addict. How Charlotte Gainsbourg delivers the line "I'm nymphomaniac"? I guess I have to see part II.

  • Sam Adams | April 12, 2014 12:21 AM

    The movie exists in two parts for commercial release, but there is no question that it is a single movie that's been split in two. Seeing only one part is like putting a book down when it's halfway read.

  • Jon | April 11, 2014 8:39 PM

    What makes you think that saying "I'm a nymphomaniac" is a recognition of sickness? Yes. see part II.

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