I haven’t seen Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, not yet. I probably will, though I’m in no rush – I don’t mind Trier’s films, though they’re a bit hit or miss for me, but the interviews and pieces about it have kind of turned me off it.
Nymphomaniac is, if you’ve not heard it, is a two part, five hour film that follows a self confessed sex addict who, after being found by a man on the street beaten, recounts her life to him. As you might imagine, such a film features heavy and graphic sex scenes, the most intimate of them filmed with body doubles, who are also porn actors. These scenes have been digitally overlaid on the non-porn actors, so that we could all watch a movie where we pretend that they are having real sex, when in fact, we all know that famous men and women don’t.
It’s weird and odd, when you consider it. Puritanical, in a fashion. Since i’ve been reading abotu the film, I’ve been bothered by a way that people have talked about it, and it wasn’t until I read an interview with Charlotte Gainbourg, who plays the central character of the film for a large portion of it, that I understood just what it was that was giving me a weird vibe.
Here is what she said:
So they [the porn actors] would have sex—they would do their job, basically, because I think they’re porn actors in Germany—and then we would come on and do exactly the same thing, but with pants on, basically. And then it’s all [edited in] post. [Then, when asked if she talked to the woman who was her porn double, she said:] No. I mean, I met her, but we didn’t have tea or anything. It’s strange just to see how quickly a set can change. Like, the atmosphere really changed when they did those scenes, and I did stay a bit too long at one point. When they started filming, I was like, “Actually, this is a bit too weird—I’m gonna go.” It was like they were doing a porn movie, and everything they do, they do [for real].
For a moment, my mind kind of held itself still, as if it had been suspended above something awful and ugly, as if a light had been shined into the pure awfulness of how we treat sex as a culture, and I couldn’t quite understand it – but then I realised the porn actors and the actual, real life sex that was happening on a film called Nymphomaniac was considered to be degrading, fit only for nameless men and women who don’t have mainstream careers that could be hurt by the fact that they have, y’know, genitals.
After I read this line – and there is another, where Gainsbourg says, “I can actually do this film without breaking my own integrity,” because of the porn actors – I realised that the treatment of the unnamed porn actors in much of the press for the film has been awful, reducing them to nothing but men and women who did dirty, awful things for this film we’re going to sit through and be stimulated, one way or another. On the surface, it is similar to how actors talk of stunt doubles, except that it is not uncommon for actors to mention them by name, or praise them, and that is where it really differs because it’s as if the very fact that these men and women are having sex is so morally wrong, so fucked up, that we have to criticise not their involvement in the film, but the morals that allowed them to fuck in front of others.
It has, I must admit, turned me a little off the film. It is not new, nor surprising, to learn that society has a very real and very damaging hang up towards sex, or that it shames those who make a career out of it, but at the very least, a film such as Nymphomaniac should offer a counter view to that.
If for no other reason than those men and women also worked hard to create the end product, which, like it or hate it, is presented as a work of art.