Picking up right where Volume One left off, without so much as a "Previously On…" pre-title catch-up, we’re still listening to Joe’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) story. Most recently, and semi-spoilers here if you want to go in blind, she finds herself being unable to be sexually aroused, and also finds herself doing everything and anything she can to remedy her situation. Now in a “loving” relationship with Shia LeBeouf - and with a loveless relationship with their shared child - she ventures out into new sexual activities to try to reignite her desire.
Ticking items off like someone shopping on specialist porn sites, Joe becomes involved in everything from threesomes to sadomasochism to lesbianism, her all-consuming addiction forcing her into the more experimental corners of sexuality.
In many ways, Volume Two is a vast step up in terms of quality than Volume One, although one can not and should not be experienced without the other. There are no dips in the quality of chapters in Joe’s story this time around, and LaBeouf and Slater’s atrocious accents are mostly absent with new cast additions Jamie Bell and Mia Goth given the upper hand by already being British. Gone are most of Stellan Skarsgard’s lame metaphors, this time talking up the much more interesting comparisons between sex, religion and psychology. Plus, finally, Gainsbourg has more to do than just sit in a bed and discuss how terrible a person she is.
However, we do get to see just how bad a person Joe has actually come to be, and Von Trier sets up some scenarios that are likely to enrage as many as they enthral. One particular moment, when Joe encounters a paedophile, and Von Trier initially asks us to sympathise and then celebrate their restraint, is as incendiary a piece of film-making as there ever has been.
Finally, with this second act, Von Trier’s thesis has come into focus, as he asks the questions that nobody else is asking when it comes to sex, gender and the levels of acceptability in both. However, it’s when he answers his own questions with answers that very few can relate to, and even fewer will agree with, is when things begin to fall apart. He’s not pleased just asking troublesome questions, he then gets off on giving the most troublesome answers.
While Von Trier’s fearlessness should be celebrated, a little bit of restrain would have gone a long way.