Sunday, August 23, 2015


Why in hell did he have an antisemite ending? That's not provocative, that's an insult.


That’s a monumental film with four hours of moving pictures that end in one single sequence that alas changes the whole meaning of these four hours. But let’s keep that last sequence for the end.

The film has a subject that is irritatingly made sibylline by the parentheses in the place of the O in the title. These parentheses could mean many things but they always have to mean that something is in-between them, and in a title it can only be the person this title indicates, hence Joe. She is thus asserted to be in-between two things and though we do not understand what she is in-between when looking at the title, we very fast understand many possible meanings.

Right at the beginning of the story, a story that is being told to us by the voice over of Joe herself and the voice over of Seligman, her benefactor, savior and listener, she tells us about a vision she had when twelve or so with two women appearing in the sky, one being seen more or les like the Holy Virgin by Joe herself. But Seligman at once introduces another interpretation. One is Valeria Messalina, Emperor Claudius’s wife, and the second is the Whore of Babylon. The first one is a woman with a very dubious reputation though that reputation is probably more the result of political strife than of real facts. “She was a paternal cousin of the Emperor Nero, a second-cousin of the Emperor Caligula, and a great-grandniece of the Emperor Augustus. A powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity, she allegedly conspired against her husband and was executed on the discovery of the plot.” (Wikipedia) The Whore of Babylon everyone knows since she is the great monstrous promiscuous by profession heroin of Saint John’s Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation. It is strange a girl of twelve could have a vision of these two women though she has no religious education and she does not recognize them, hence she does not know them. That’s the type of detail that shows that Lars von Trier is manipulating us because he wants to introduce Seligman as someone who knows about this all because as we are told he is a Jew and he tells us his name means “the blessed man” in German or Yiddish. He even clearly says he is an anti-Zionist and he declares that anti-Zionism does not mean anti-Semitism though many people think the opposite.

This is at the very beginning of this saga and at once Seligman is positioned as a Jew and as the one who is going to give the meaning of the story, who is going to be the guide of Joe and us in the story, who is going to add his two-pennies of science and reflection to the story. Most of the time it is trite and not really useful and with always the same references behind, mainly Freud and Sigmund and Sigmund Freud seen as the new trinity of the modern world. He is of course a Jew as we all know. This Jewish cluster will become the key of the film with the very last sequence. And it will go bang, though definitely not a big bang, just a surprising and shocking bang. But more about it later.

Joe is a nymphomaniac and she has been obsessed by her sexual desire since the age of two she says. She is shown as adventurous, rebellious and independent all the time, looking for some isolation, loneliness to let her desire blossom and bloom even before it could simply satisfy itself. The mother is a very cold, distant and authoritarian woman, just like Justine’s mother in “Melancholia.” But Joe does not have a sister or a brother. But she has a father who encourages her in her dreaming and fantasizing. He will die when she is still young in atrocious scenes, the mother totally absent then and the daughter totally fascinated by that death that was known as death anyway, from the very start and with no escape possible whatsoever. The film insists how the escape from this dying man’s hospital room led Joe to the basement of the hospital where she could seduce and use all the janitors and menial workers taking care of the furnace or cleaning up the mess here and there. The film wants us to believe of course that the mother is the guilty character. Her distance and absence produced the nymphomaniac sex obsession or addiction of her daughter.

This is of course trite and superficial. Unluckily the film is not going to propose any other explanation, neither in voice over commentary, nor in real situations. She is stated as a nymphomaniac and there is only this embryonic explanation that is worth two pennies again on the psychoanalytical market.

In the first part Joe finally leads us to understanding she had three main lovers with the frequent repetition that she had something like ten sexual partners a day, and yet a full time job. The reduction to three makes the tale a little bit more believable. If she did not have a job it could be possible to have ten but with a full time job it is plain impossible. The three men are F and G and in-between a certain Jerome is introduced as the third one. He is the one between the F and G parentheses on a screen split in three boxes, one for each lover. Just as that poor Joe was locked up between the deficient parentheses of her two parents, she is now surrounded by three main lovers, one being locked up between the utilitarian and meaningless parentheses of F and G. Why this central position?

Because Jerome is the one who introduced her to sex, three penetrations in front and five penetrations behind. This will lead Seligman to the Fibonacci numbers and later to the Cabalistic numbers of the Jewish tradition, without telling us it is Jewish. When he applies it to Bach implying that Bach was using such numerical formulas, we feel awkward because Bach could not have any Jewish cultural reference and he was too late in historical time to be still, like Shakespeare in England, under the influence of some medieval numerology. Here with these Fibonacci numbers we feel manipulated and of course we think of the very Jewish film, “Pi” (1998), about these cabalistic numbers and their eventual usefulness in stock exchange trading. Note that has nothing to do with the subject of this film, so we can wonder why it is introduced in connection with Joe’s first encounter. Anyway she has created a trinity of her own with these three lovers. Yet Jerome stands apart.

He was a temporary boss in one of her first jobs at a publishing house and he refused any sexual advances from her then. One day he disappeared with the secretary who he had secretly married. That Jerome comes back into her life later on, when he comes back from his travelling with his wife. Yet we are not given any explanation why he falls in her trap and what happens to his wife. He just becomes the third man, but she falls in love with him, and as soon she falls in love with him she finds no pleasure whatsoever in any carnal contact with Jerome or anyone else.

Yet she manages to get a son from him thinking it would re-ignite her desire. It does not and the son, Marcel, is the victim of his parents, a recurrent theme in Lars von Trier. She abandons him without a baby sitter at night to go to some kinky non-directly-sexual masochistic and sadistic séances. On Christmas night she leaves in spite of Jerome telling her she would never see him and Marcel again if she did, and she does. When she comes back from her punishing séance Jerome is gone and Marcel along with him; The film though will tell us the son was put in a foster home and she will provide money on a special account to his name. A good mother art a great distance. Nourishing your son by telepathy, I guess. There is in Lars von Trier a recurring element about careless and even vicious parents. He does have a problem in his films with his characters who are deprived of any proper parental love, which is such an easy superficial Freudian element that it makes this reference to Freud vain and useless. It explains nothing because it is turned into a recipe that prevents anyone in the film from just thinking and empathetically analyze the real personal situation of let’s say Joe for one example.

Lars von Trier must have suffered a very strenuous or traumatic experience in his university studies from some Freud-obsessed professor trying to prove that everything in this world can be reduced to vulva symbols and penis symbols with Frau Libido having a go at Herr Death Instinct and vice versa, Libido being feminine and Death Instinct masculine, and vice versa too. Lars von Trier even gives us the feminine version of it that he calls “the little flock” and the words are very Christian indeed: “Mea Vulva, Mean Vulva, Mea Maximum Vulva” with a simple piano chord which is the Satanic tritone with explanations from Master Seligman that it is playing two notes at the same time Si-Fa or if you prefer B-F, and the explanation is long enough for us to know everything about this tritone and the Medieval ban because it was considered Satanic. But how could these girls (who were in their early teens) know that to play it over and over again while they were reciting their sinful confession? They must once again have been inspired by some archangel, in this case Lucifer himself. Such elements that do not fit any credible approach of the facts and characters make the film unbelievable and they prevent us from suspending our disbelief.

And yet Lars von Trier tries hard to expand the music theme with Bach and the numerical cabalistic meanings and values of the four letters of his name (2 + 1 + 3 + 8 = 14. Note this is amateurish since it refers to the rank of the letters in the Latin alphabet. The cabalistic approach gives values to the various letters in the Hebrew alphabet: B = 2; 1 = 1; C = 8; H = 5; hence BACH = 16. Did Bach often use this number in his compositions as he is said to have used 14), and then with a music lesson on polyphony. Bach would be the best who did it with the organ after the choir and the soloists. The bass voice is on the pedals. The second voice is on the keyboards with the left hand. And the first voice is also on the keyboards with the right hand. Bach would have been a genius about bringing the melody of each voice into perfect harmony together in polyphony. That’s a nice lesson that introduces a third trinity and that obsession about trinities seems to show some deeper uncomfortable layer in these characters who are Christians who have forgotten their roots and cannot recognize them any more. It is slightly awkward for Seligman who is a Jew, but a Jew who is trying to integrate and is assimilating the basic concepts of a Christian society to look part of the décor.

And do not forget the tritone is a trinity in itself, a Satanic trinity? We are really getting close to something deeply heretical and apostatical.

But here we are at the end of the first part with love that kills sexual desire but Joe’s nymphomania then becomes explosive and she has to find a way to restart her promiscuous lustful obsession. A son, a child did not solve the problem. She then goes to some kind of Nymphomaniac Anonymous and that does not work either. She had tried sadism-masochism and that was another failure. She even tried some black African speaking no English whatsoever. She selected one and he came with his brother for a double penetration but they started arguing and forgot about her: a kinky girl can always find some kinkier lovers. That’s when she meets a new boss who is having problems with customers who forget to pay their debts. He needs a debt collector, and a good one at that because it is implied debtors who forget to pay their debts are people who have a sexual problem. We are shown one who needs to be flagellated on his bare bottom to accept paying and the flagellation must have been performed at every payment I guess. Then another one is brought to a sensible response when she prods into his unconscious and reveals he is a closet pedophile which brings him down to remission because he does not want that to go out, does he now? And she gives buccal relief to his strenuous wooden excitement, out of pity for his loneliness in his closet locked up desire that he probable has never satisfied.

Her boss suggests she should capture the attention of a girl who is just under age to make her become her successor. That part of the story is more than successful. Joe even discovers a type of carnal satisfaction she had never used before with that young lady. But she also discovers there is no love in that relation because one day the bad debtor is a certain Jerome, and she entrusts the customer to that young lady of hers. Jerome will seduce her and then when Joe tries to get her vengeance and kill Jerome, she will fail, forgetting how to use a weapon and she will be beaten up by Jerome and that’s when she was discovered in the street by Seligman at the beginning of the first part. But Lars von Trier cannot avoid going back to another numerical symbolical formula of his: Jerome is taking the young lady friend of Joe’s to some carnal paradise and Joe can count three penetrations in the front side and the five penetrations in the back side. Fibonacci numbers again and we remember another episode at the beginning. With Lars von Trier a story always seems to repeat itself. And then we come to the end and what Joe says then is essential:

“Even if only one in a million succeeds in mentally, bodily and in her heart of ridding herself of her sexuality, this is now my goal.” [Seligman: “Is that a life worth living?”] “It’s the only way I can live. I will stand up against all odds. Just like a deformed tree on a hill. I will muster all my stubbornness, my strength, my masculine aggression. But most of all I want to say thanks to my new and maybe first friend. Thank you, Seligman, who perhaps is happy when all is said and done. I’m happy at any rate that the shot didn’t go off and made me a murderer. If I may, I’d like to sleep now.”

We are surprised by the “masculine aggression” in this discourse because she never showed any masculinity at all. Her aggressiveness was always feminine sexuality and submission to masculine violence, willingly in her masochistic-sadistic period and unwillingly in her last encounter with Jerome. The script here does not correspond to the film we have seen, because that script would imply her lovers were nothing but clandestine homosexuals.

But the film that could stop there with Seligman getting out, Joe turning of the light and going to sleep, does not reach its end then. A final sequence is added with Seligman, in his shirt coming back into the room and trying to take advantage of sleeping Joe. We understand Joe refuses, we hear Seligman arguing she has done it with a lot of men, as if that argument gave him the right to take what he suddenly wanted after having explained that he was a virgin, that he had never had a woman, not a man as for that. We hear a shot in the total darkness on the screen, pants being zipped up and then feminine shoe steps going away. She became a murderer after all.

But that was inescapable after the four hours of Freudian rationalizing about Joe. The shocking element in this last sequence is that the one who tries to take Joe without her consent, the one who has no moral ethics at all in such a situation where Joe had enshrined in him her total trust is also a Jew. This ending implies that Jews do not ask before taking, and Jews are perverts and a few other things. That last sequence is absolutely and inescapably anti-Semite. Why did Lars von Trier inject that last touch of unacceptable ideology in a film that had been too long for one and too intellectual for two, but it had remained free of sexism, racism and anti-Semitism. Unluckily the last sequence changes that last fact and this is not acceptable, just the same as the sexism implied by a man taking a woman without her consent. Does it reveal the film is anti-Semite? Definitely yes. Does it say anything about the author and director? Certainly not. Then what is the director’s motivation in that last touch of anti-Semitism? He is the only one who can answer this question but it is definitely out of place in this film.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?