Danish writer/director Lars von Trier has seemingly always been obsessed with women and their oppression. In his most well-known films—Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist, and most recently, Melancholia—his storylines invariably revolve around a tortured heroine whose alienation escalates to unbearable heights. And his latest release (which is actually two releases—Nymphomaniac: Volume I, out March 21, and Volume II, out April 4) is no different. Following a tumultuous life of rampant sex addiction and its consequences lived out by a privileged but troubled young woman (played in her early years by Stacy Martin and in adulthood by Charlotte Gainsbourg), the chronicle is one of self-discovery, but without the uplifting moral core usually possessed by these sorts of tales.
Buzz over Nymphomaniac started well before its release and focused primarily on the film’s unflinchingly explicit and frequent sex scenes. But when viewed as a whole, the narrative becomes controversial and explicit in far more unexpected ways. It is explicitly anti-Zionist, explicitly racist, explicitly violent, explicitly anti-social, and explicitly amoral to a degree that one wonders if it was penned by a sociopath. But it is also explicitly feminist in its worldview—devoting upwards of four hours to imagining what it would look like if women started prioritizing their own pleasure in ways that men routinely do. Whether the end justifies the politically incorrect means here is difficult to say. But there can be no doubt that however misguided his tactics, von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is a carefully crafted rallying cry against sexism in all its forms. –Emily Rems