With little more than two strategically placed parentheses, Lars von Trier may well have delivered the best poster of the year, a preposterously simple, characteristically devious tease that succeeds in saying nothing and, potentially, everything about his latest film. Reported, more than a year ago, to be a two-part endeavor (details of when and how each part will be released remain somewhat ambiguous), the self-explanatory Nymphomaniac stars von Trier’s masochistic muse, Charlotte Gainsbourg, as a self-diagnosed sex addict, who, at age 50, spills her lifelong string of trysts to a man (Stellan Skarsgård) who finds her beaten in the street. That’s essentially all that’s known, aside from the fact that the film will include bona fide, non-simulated sex, and that Shia LaBeouf will be among the libidinous partners baring all.
Depending on how you received Antichrist, a sins-of-the-mother horrorshow that culminated with one of cinema’s most unshakable acts of violence (you know the one), von Trier can be viewed as a conscience-deprived misogynist or the world’s most offbeat feminist. In either case, there’s no getting past his fascination with female genitalia, which is bluntly evoked here without any immediate crudeness. One might call the apparent obsession Freudian, but such a common label seems dumbly reductive for a man of von Trier’s oft-immeasurable thematic predilections. Still, Sigmund would be proud if he moseyed over to the movie’s current website, which, speaking of revisiting the past, lets the viewer enter those parentheses via a move of the scroll bar, simulating the ultimate return to the ultimate source.
It’s almost hilarious that a poster like this can be so minimalistically tasteful and unabashedly arrogant. As he has with posters for previous films (like Melancholia’s one-sheet nod to Ophelia and Antichrist’s tree-of-the-damned sex ad), von Trier has blatantly positioned himself as the star of his work, simply stamping his name on the art, without any boilerplate softeners like “a film by.” “Forget About Love,” reads the perfectly nasty tagline, which can only give you hints at Gainsbourg’s character’s emotional hollowness (or the emotional hollowness of sexaholics in general), but speaks volumes of the tone von Trier is shooting for—another profoundly disturbing study of matters no one wants to confront. The cheekiest, most brilliant triumph is the poster’s retooling (and merging) of classic symbols and modern, humdrum details. What we basically get here is a streamlined, O’Keefian vagina by way emoticon parts—a textable innuendo blown up large to achieve stark, bracing power.
Of course, there is yet more to it than that. Also (reportedly) starring Connie Nielsen, Jamie Bell, Christian Slater, Udo Kier, and Willem Dafoe in a minor role, Nymphomaniac is, again, an epic recollection, and it’s probably safe to assume that Gainsbourg’s titular leg-spreader will see her story come full circle (and speaking of that word “come,” other sites have opted to apply crass meaning to the poster’s inevitable inclusion of the phrase “Coming Soon,” which is about as reductive and rudimentary a reading as could be imagined). Anyway, the ultimate (slightly) hidden point appears to be that those suggestive curves represent the film’s plot itself. What we will learn of the nymphomaniac will, naturally, be summed up—contained within those (admittedly inviting) parentheses.