A Trailer in Clips: Lars von Trier’s Curious Nymphomaniac Rollout

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Oh, Lars, what are you playing at? The court jester of Cannes has remained uncharacteristically tightlipped about his next film, the pornographic two-part epic Nymphomaniac, having sworn off the press following that infamous Melancholia conference. In lieu of his usual stops on the festival circuit, von Trier has taken to releasing “appetizers” from each of the film’s eight chapters. Trailers are for the merely conventional.

The first clip, entitled “The Compleat Angler,” appeared on June 28th, and introduced us to Young Joe, the adolescent iteration of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s protagonist. The hallmark handheld sways in unison with the train car where Joe and a friend speak in hushed tones. Boys sit in a nearby coach, replete with 70’s earth tones, as the friend encourages Joe to “take them to the lavatory and have sex with them.” If it’s as “nasty” as Joe presumes it to be, then she ought to “think of the bag of chocolate sweeties.” Joe reluctantly opens the door, entering their quarters, as the scene fades to black.

The next time we encounter Young Joe, in “Jerôme,” she is again embroiled in an instance of sexual manipulation, albeit one of a more implicit variety. Shia Labeouf, sporting an inscrutable Anglicized accent, shows her around the office after a job interview. In the freight elevator, his nimble fingers get the better of him, and he flicks the stop switch, halting the lift in its tracks. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

The third and most recent installment, from “Mrs. H,” appeared, as its predecessors, on the last Friday of the month. A visibly distressed Uma Thurman asks Young Joe if she may show her three sons “the whoring bed,” before escorting them into the room where Joe has presumably been conducting an affair with her husband. Though Joe remains sedate, there is a sense she has transitioned from the impressionable to the culpable, as she exchanges knowing glances with her lover.

In three short clips—no more than 50 seconds each—von Trier has intrigued with the evolutionary plot of Nymphomaniac’s protagonist. The shifts in Joe’s power are simultaneously understated and increasingly apparent through minute interactions with objects and instigators of desire. Where she is initially prodded into deviant behavior, the third excerpt suggests a more deliberately complicit act. It is a finely drawn transformation that a trailer could hardly accomplish, and, further, suggests the incremental marketing scheme may be the strongest fit for a film that covers 50 years in a woman’s life. The content thus informs its deployment.

Von Trier shows no sign of slowing down, as Nymphomaniac’s website portends “more to come” on “September 27th.” Indeed, if he continues apace, we will have consumed an appetizer from each chapter by January, the month after the film’s Christmas Day release in Denmark. It is worth noting that although Magnolia acquired the rights to Nymphomaniac back in February, no U.S. release date or festival premiere has been set. Perhaps more surprises are in store? Though for now — at least until the hardcore version is unleashed — it seems von Trier has decided that restraint may have a place in his work. Even if it’s just in the previews.