Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2: The SSL Review

Nymphomanic Volumes 1 and 2: How could I not make every effort to see these movies when they touched down in Indianapolis for a couple days? I'm reviewing them together because they are kinda a cohesive piece, and it'd be hard for me not to.

From the previews, it was clearly going to show some depictions and discussions of female sexual release and masturbation. I was pretty certain about that, so I knew I could do an SSL Review. I also like to see a Lars von Trier movie. Notice I didn't say I love a Lars von Trier movie - cause I can't really say that, but I feel like they are always worth a watch, ya know? I don't know how to express this correctly, but it's something like this: His movies usually have some things in them that intrigues or excites me from a movie making perspective - in a way that doesn't happen all the time, and that's actually really cool. However, as a total package, they can be kinda...not my favorites. So that's me and ol' Lars.

Now, back to the Nymphomaniac preview - I was definitely intrigued, but honestly I felt like I would really not like it. I thought it would be incredibly annoying to me. There was a certain type of sexual darkness coming through in the preview that just rubbed me the wrong way. As it happens, though, I liked the movie...I mean in the earlier explained way that I like a Lars von Trier movie.

Which brings me to the SSL Review part. Whether I enjoy a movie or think it's a quality cinematic experience is a separate issue from my SSL review. My review of a movie could be bad and the SSL review could be  quite good and vice versa. In this situation, the SSL review is mixed, but I lean fairly far toward bad. After I saw it the first time in the theater, I'd say I felt my leanings were a little more to the good side, but it shifted a bit after a detailed watch through where I paused it a lot, wrote down quotes, and looked all careful like at each SSL reviewable scene. There were a lot of SSL reviewable scenes, and don't get me wrong, some were realistic, even progressive depictions of lady-gasms, but on a whole, I felt the movies reinforced crap understandings of lady-gasms.

My next post will be a detailed list with detailed descriptions of all the SSL Reviewable moments, for your curiosity and reference. This post will be the actual review with a bit less detail in scene description. Here we go.

The way Joe's (she's the main character - the "nymphomaniac") ability to orgasm is depicted is so, so very much the status quo way that female orgasm is depicted in this culture, which means it's overall unrealistic. Even though there are certainly moments of realism in this movie, the highly unrealistic assertion that women can orgasm easily from nothing more than penises moving in and out of their vaginas, rings out loud and clear, obscuring everything else. I truly do understand that there are women who claim to orgasm in just this way, but the truth is that even if every claim is true, it's still a minority of women (in surveys only about 15-30 % of women claim this), and on top of that, this type of orgasm has never actually been verified in scientific investigation. You would think that it has, but it has not. An orgasm that happens from stimulation inside the vagina just simply has not been physically observed the way an orgasm resulting from stimulation of the clitoral glans has been observed and documented in numerous studies. I would (and do) argue that even though 15-30% of women claim this type of vaginally induced orgasm happens, the numbers are probably much, much less if at any at all. But, even if there is a small amount of women who do come from a good banging, it's still a small minority, and yet it is by far the most common way of orgasming one sees in porn and movies and reads about in erotica and romance novels.

That discrepancy is a little crazy to me, and movies that get good SSL Reviews are simply ones that are overall more progressive, daring, and realistic - daring in that they show realisitc acts that simply aren't common in movies such as a woman rubbing her clitoral glans to orgasm during the act of intercourse. Nymphomanic was daring in that it was a "normal" movie that showed sexual encounters fully - kinda like porn. However, those sexual encounters were just that - like porn and as unrealistic on the ladygasm front. Let me get a touch more detailed.

Orgasming during intercourse with no clitoral/vulva stimulation
So, pretty much every time we see Joe having intercourse, she orgasms while there is clearly nothing at all stimulating her clitoral glans.

  • After she is on her own, we see her getting banged by 4 different guys on separate occasions, orgasming each time
  • We see an example of her having sex/orgasming with a man during a time that she didn't want men touching her during sex

Intercourse that specifically doesn't result in orgasm

  • Her first sexual experience, which just consisted of a dude thrusting in her vagina 3 times and her ass 5 times, then coming.
Right before the 3 in vagina, 5 in ass situation
  • The very next time she engages in sex which was when she was a teenager. Her and her friend have a contest in which the girl who has sex with the most men on a train gets a bag of chocolates. We see two instances in which she has intercourse during the contest. Both involve no touching of the clitoral glans. We don't see her have an orgasm in the snippet we get to see, and she looks rather bored and disinterested in both, so it's pretty clear that she will not be having one at all.

Both of those were actually pretty realistic portrayals. She wouldn't likely have an orgasm during intercourse at all, much less when a dude barely touches her at all before flipping her over and going all anal. Painful intrusions of the butthole (and it's clear in the movie that it was painful), do not orgasms make. She also wouldn't during some quick P in V on a train. There was clearly no manual clitoral stimulation happening, and her bored and fairly motionless body was clearly not trying to work the clit against his body while it was happening, so no, an orgasm would be unlikely.

These on their own in a movie would actually get a fairly good SSL review for realism. However, on the wider view, it seems to me as though these were just holding to a stereotype that sex is bad for girls when they are young. Granted, that's probably more true than not, but that's another post all together. My point here is that the banging she got on the trains was really not physically different than the banging they showed her getting, and orgasming to, later in her life. That change seems a little unmotivated and thoughtless. What was the difference? Her age? Her attitude? I mean if the movie is saying that her vagina is one of these lucky ones that stimulates to orgasms during a ramming, then why not on the train? It's kinda like if a movie depicted a teen boy all bored and stuff while getting his dick bounced on by a girl, but later showed the same physical actions making him orgasm when he was older - with no indication of what changed? It's weird, and frankly I don't think much thought beyond what people surfacely hear about girls and sex went into it.

Orgasm during intercourse that's realistic enough

  • An encounter much later in her life involves an orgasm during missionary intercourse, but the shot is more close-up and although no hands were on her vulva, there is a slight possibility that her vulva could be rubbing against his pelvis since she is holding him close to her.

Again, on it's own, I wouldn't have a problem with this scene. It's not portraying anything progressive or interesting on the female orgasm front, but it's not portraying a blatantly unrealistic lady-gasm either, so whatevs. However, mixed with the rest of the movie it's just neutral, and the rest of the bad depictions win over.

Lack of orgasm during intercourse

  • The other non orgasmic penetrations happen during the time that she mysteriously "loses" her orgasm while having intercourse. She says she can't feel anything. 

I have a slight distaste for this whole storyline in the movie because 1 - it assumes, she should be having orgasms during intercourse with no additional clit stim and 2 - it sets the female orgasm into a realm that's mystical, beyond rational physical properties. In fact, when she is talking about this "loss of orgasm" she describes a childhood orgasm, and it goes something like this: field trip in the hills, 12 years old, laying on her back in the grass, and she has this spontaneous orgasm where she begins to floats and sees two ghostly religious figure women in the air. It's mysterious, just like this "loss" of her orgasm.

Hey, I get that people have feelings about their orgasms that bleed into the realm of religion and spirituality, and that's all cool. Everybody has unique feelings and ways of describing their orgasms. My problem, in a nutshell, is that female orgasms are spoken about in this way (even by professionals) so very much more than male orgasms are. Lady-gasms are too often stereotyped as having a element of emotional or spiritual control that men's don't - as if they are mysterious, other-wordly, and unpredictable.  The truth is, if you look at the scientific literature, female orgasms are clearly understood, as patently physical and no more tricky than male orgasms, and there is no real indication that women are any more varied in their biologic orgasmic abilities than men are.

The mysterious stereotype it gets results more from the fact that people misunderstand the physical aspects of how female orgasm happens as opposed to lady-gasms actually being tricky. I feel like speaking about female orgasms as these mysterious beasts lets everyone off the hook of actually seeking understanding. Why learn about the physical nature of female orgasm when we can all just flippantly throw up our hands and say, "well women's orgasms are complicated, ya know - I mean the hormones and the emotional stuff, and ya know women are all just so very different, so....what can ya do?"

Non-intercourse orgasms - i.e. the realistic ones
Now, there are more depictions in this movie which are realistic and would be SSL Reviewed well if not for the larger scope of this movie. I want to point these out real quick.

  • Joe and a friend "playing frogs" when they were about 6ish, I guess. Basically, they pour water all over the bathroom floor, take off their panties (they are wearing skirts - nothing is revealed) and they sorta writhe separately on the floor on their stomachs. (I would be really annoyed about that water on the floor thing if they were my kids, btw).
  •  Also, we see that she likes to wrap her legs around the rope in gym class and rub against it (which can't help but make me think of a particular line from Wayne's World). 
  • Seligman, the man Joe is telling her story to, briefly imagines what Joe getting higher education might be like. Spoiler, it's her in a schoolgirl outfit, masturbating in weird, school related ways. At one point, there's randomly a stuffed fox next to her on the desk. To my delight, all the depictions involve something stimulating the clitoral/vulva area, and never something penetrating. It's realistic...I mean as realistic as this fantasy sequence could be. 
Well, there it is. Stuffed fox and masturbation with school stuff
  • We see her masturbate on a train. The indication is that she's making tiny circles on her crotch under the bag that lay on her lap - realistic! 
  • We see her masturbating in a bathroom stall at work, and she is rubbing her vulva in a circular motion - also realistic. 
  • The only depiction of cunnilingus happens when she was talking about a man who put her orgasm above all else. He goes down on her and clearly is stimulating her clitoral/vulva area, although the scene ends before she orgasms.
  • She orgasms during a session with a dude who has tied her up, face down, bent over the arm of a couch and is whipping the shit out of her. She figures out how to allow herself slight movement in the ropes and begins rubbing her clitoral/vulva area on the books that her pelvis is tied against, and she orgasms. I'm not gonna explain this scene, you'll just have to see the movie, but I will say that besides the fact that it's happening while her ass is being ripped with a knotted whip, the orgasm makes sense.
Joe being tied to the couch, no whipping just yet

I can get behind those scenes, but let me just point out one thing. Isn't it odd that every single time Joe is depicted masturbating, it involves stimulation of the vulva and clitoral glans. I mean, that is her choice for what works well, but when she's having sex with another person, she is suddenly depicted as pursuing orgasm through vaginal penetration (the exception is the 1 act of cunnilingus, of course). Why not penetrate herself during masturbation? Why not manually stimulate the clitoral glans during intercourse?

Oddly, this actually mirrors real life. Women do masturbate the way Joe does - which is not with vaginal penetration (The Hite Report has good numbers on this).  The way women (and Joe) masturbate actually works for attaining orgasm, and there's lots of scientific studies to prove it. However, my guess is we don't add this into our sexual encounters often enough because it seems weird to touch ourselves down there during it, leaving many women to simply not orgasm or to fake orgasms. So, I imagine the movie was made with this masturbation/sex orgasm discrepancy because that's what the filmmakers and actors see and experience as normal, so that's how it is in the movie.

One more thing. At one point Joe is in a bathroom stall masturbating her clit/vulva, and her voice over says,
"Some years later, the body abuse began to have an affect. First, rare bleedings from my clitoris, but then they became more and more frequent." 
She sees blood, and takes a closer look. We get to see the whole deal down there. There's blood on her inner thigh. It looks like it might be a sore or blood that came from another sore. The weird thing is, we see her clitoris and most of her whole vulva pretty clearly, and there is no blood at all or any discoloration or injury on her clit. It's only that area on her inner thigh. Seriously, I even paused and really checked this out. She then seems worried about it and takes a make-up mirror to look at her vaginal hole area - a place we can't really see. I really don't know what to make of this. I would think the movie makers have a basic understanding of anatomy...like where the clit is, but if I were to go by this scene, I would assume they think it is in the vaginal hole. I'll just hope this was some mix up where the voice over was supposed to say vagina instead of clit or something, but it's super strange.

Okay, that's about it. As you know, I'm not giving this a very good SSL Review. It's getting a little credit for the good realistic depictions in there, but as a whole it reiterated all the misunderstandings about female orgasm that I'm trying to fight....that it is caused by Ps moving in and out of Vs, that they are mysterious, and that the clit is in the vagina?...I guess. I do judge this a bit more harshly because it is a movie so specifically focused on the subject of female orgasm, and I hope so much for some element of progressiveness from it - especially because it's such an avant garde movie. I give slight leeway, though, because all the orgasm and sexuality stuff is probably meant to be all symbolic and metaphoric and shit, so who knows what ol' Lars von Trier was trying to say. But still the review is not great  - 1 and a half vulvas out of 5. (This is my first half vulva. Believe me - I hate cutting a vulva. That's really gross to me, but I couldn't decide between 1 and 2).

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Stay tuned for a list with description of all depictions and discussions of female sexual release or masturbation in Nymphomaniac Vol. 1&2. ****Find the list HERE

Oh - and P.S. The gross-ass, over-zealous, stiff tongued, throat-cleaning kissing that Shia LaBeouf was doing, particularly in the last scene of Volume 1, was making me want to vomit my popcorn back into the tub. I did not like it.

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