I began to write, at the force of a mental flood, about Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ parts I and II on the subway the morning after I finished the second film.
First, I got down what I thought, beginning with how angry I was that the Scholar character who saves Joe ended up being so much like the worst men we hear about in news around the world: the friendly, all-assuming rapist. He is the worst possible kind of savior Joe could’ve encountered, because he listened and cared for long enough to become the image of kindness, then he crushed it all by being the only person in the story to try to attack Joe’s sense of physical safety. His reason? She’s never thought much about who she slept with. Ah: this is how rapists miss that they’re rapists. And when she killed him, she killed the ideas related to his kind of kindness, as well.
In the midst of my struggle against the many ideas filling my head, I considered how I could write about Joe as a predator. She herself rapes multiple men in the course of the two films, if we are going by acts of force, humiliation, and the words “no” and “don’t”. And we should, so I will. Joe is an abuser. But she is many other things: an impressive, fully-developed character.
Lastly, I stepped back into self-judgment. I had written many lines about how Joe thinks. She strikes me as a character similar to a soldier returning from battle. She cannot fully trust or accept kindness, and she defies other’s attempts to understand or even explain her actions. She, quite responsibly, refuses to be justified in her offenses, and, on the other hand, she continuously returns to the topic of having achieved self-acceptance through her hardship, which is an addiction…her dangerous compulsion to feel sensual pleasure. I realized I was assuming the role of her audience, trying to explain her. Could I, should I, must I do so? Or is that kind of explanation a contradiction to actually understanding her? Are words not enough, though she is a character and not a person? This led me to the realization that I viewed Joe and many other characters I’ve felt compelled to write about as realistic representations of many people. They deserve respect for two reasons, in this case: 1- they are people, and 2- they are so well-constructed that, though they are only people in the sense that they may be believed as such, they must be treated as though the recognition of their personhood is a reality.