How Is the Marketing of ‘Nymphomaniac’ Making You Feel?

By  · Published on December 9th, 2013

Titillation is to be expected. Perhaps some embarrassment, a blush, furtive glances. Revulsion comes second (and sometimes, not at all!). The recent marketing for Lars von Trier’s two-part Nymphomaniac hasn’t shied away from its subject matter in the slightest – the nudity, the orgasmic faces, and the bold tagline “FORGET ABOUT LOVE” are both bold and bruising – and the result is one of the most well-made and deeply disturbing marketing campaigns in recent memory. The excitement of seeing sex on the big screen is there, certainly, but so is the lingering sense that everything here is very, very wrong.

As your college boyfriend probably told you, the French idiom for “orgasm” translates to “a little death.” While you probably didn’t need to explore the language to break down what “la petite mort” means, it is still one of those bits of random translation trivia that applies at the strangest moments – like when you’re examining new posters for Nymphomaniac. There is a fine line between ecstasy and pain, and that seems to be the territory that the latest batch of posters for the feature are mining – a head tossed back in pleasure, a face contorted by a sting, both tend to look oddly similar when frozen into place for a one-sheet.

Star Charlotte Gainsbourg, head back, mouth open. A whip in the shape of a heart. A menacing fishhook (and the terrifying realization that you don’t know how that applies to sex and that you probably don’t want to know). The edge of pain and pleasure is simply, exquisitely rendered. The marketing of Nymphomaniac makes you uncomfortable, and it should.

The newest poster for the film, however, appears to be going for a different kind of discomfort – boredom, paired with knowledge, as a totally nonplussed Gainsbourg reads a book (and eats a tempting apple) while co-star Shia LaBeouf readies himself to consume another type of wisdom. While he may be consumed by desire (so much so, apparently, that it didn’t occur to him to remove his pokey glasses), Gainsbourg’s Joe has moved on to other endeavors. What could be more painful than a disinterested partner, or at least one who has moved her appetite to other forms of consumption?

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Movie marketing has been crowded with meaningless character posters for quite some time (as ever, I submit The Railway Man, a historical festival flick starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, as a recent example of a film that not only didn’t need a run of character posters, but looked damn dumb while doing it), but the first round of character-centric one-sheets for von Trier’s latest broke the mold. Nothing but open mouths, gasps that seem to escape from the very paper they are printed on, and the unshakeable sense that most (if not all) of these people are in pain. For all its sexy-sounding plot – the sexual adventures of a lust-mad woman and her cohorts – Nymphomaniac seems appropriately compelled to share that nymphomania is a sickness, an compulsion, and that everyone we’re going to meet is a victim of it.

Von Trier’s film has also churned out a number of clips and trailers in support of the film, and while other films would probably start to feel oversaturated when a long-form red-band trailer that includes a blow job becomes an expected entry into their marketing canon, Nymphomaniac seems as enthralling and mysterious as ever. The overall feel of the film’s campaign is one of both dread and anticipation – agony and ecstasy, satisyfing enough on its own, even as it leaves us gasping for more. Here’s hoping the final product can deliver in the same way.

Nymphomaniac will hit the U.S. in two parts, with Part One arriving on March 21, 2014 and Part Two hitting on April 18, 2014. The films will also be available early on VOD, with Part One popping up on March 6, 2014 and Part Two arriving on April 2, 2014.