Analysis of the use of Rammstein’s “Führe mich” in the movie by Lars von Trier. Written during my Master’s degree course
Nymphomaniac – The movie
The movie by danish director Lars von Trier is a 5 and a half hour long “opus”, centering around leading lady “Joe”, who is a Nymphomaniac. She is found beaten up in the street by “Seligman”, a jewish-agnostic, passionate reader and self-diagnosed asexual. With him she recalls her life experiences in 8 chapters, going from the discovery of her sexuality to the struggles of leading a life with her addiction. While she expresses self-condemnation, she is met with understanding from Seligman, who is able to relate to and even explain her behaviour with similar patterns found in nature, science and culture.
Nymphomaniac is part of Lars von Trier’s “Depression”-Trilogy, comprised of the movies Antichrist, Melancholia and Nymphomaniac. Each movie is the result of a depressive episode and hospitalization in 2006, and cover different aspects of depression. Antichrist focuses on the descent into mental disorder, and the depths of despair when it starts to take over. Melancholia depicts the numbness people with depression experience, even in a crisis such as the end of the world. And Nymphomaniac deals with the obsessive and addictive escapes people with depression indulge in, searching to feel good and “whole” again. The movies do show these behaviours in an extreme vision.
To complete the background for this movie, I would like to mention DOGME 95, a manifesto written by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Similar to futurisms manifestos, the manifesto of DOGME 95 compiles a set of rules and beliefs these Danish artists set to follow. They moved to separate themselves from the “technological storm” which was taking over the art of cinema. These show only an “Illusion of pathos and […] illusion of love”. They wished to “force the truth out of [the] characters and settings” and keep up integrity in sound and picture. They expressed this in their “Vow of Chastity” which contains the exact rules and a vow to keep them
Freud in Nymphomaniac
There is a strong Freudian presence in the movie, by the means of an unresolved Electra complex; Joe’s relationship to her mother is summed up by the words “cold bitch”, which may have led to a phallic-stage fixation in Joe, due to missing identification with her mother and not learning sexual morality from her. This later may have developed into her hypersexuality. Joe sees it as negative, as seen in her self-chastising as a “bad person”. But Seligman sees this as a feminist gesture. She has lived as a man would, fulling embracing her sexuality, while a man wouldn’t be chastised. This alludes to post-freudian interpretations of the behaviour of unresolved Electra complexes as a rebellion against the power of males in a patriarchy. Finally there is a close relationship of Joe with her father, represented by trees. Joe later makes a leaf collection because of this. Freud in his work Traumdeutung states dreaming of tearing off branches represents masturbation. We see a sexual note to her father meaning no complete transfer of sexual libido – an unresolved Electra complex.
The Music in Nymphomaniac and Heavy Metal
All 3 installments of the “Depression”-Trilogy have classical music accompanying them. In Antichrist, the music is centred around Lascia Ch’io pianga by Händel; in the case of Melancholia it is the Prelude toTristan und Isolde by Wagner.In Nymphomaniac’s varied soundtrack a special place is reserved for Bach. Seligman mentions his Fugue and use of polyphony and Joe then compares each voice of a Fugue to one of her lovers. The bass voice is a loving man, who puts her desire above his. The second voice is a feline, dominating man. The last voice, that completes the harmony is a man named Jerôme, which has the “secret ingredient to sex”: Love. This however does not lead to a happy ending.
We can already guess that Joe’s story does not end happily thanks to foreshadowing in the opening scene. In complete silence but for the noises of the sparse action, the encounter of Seligman and Joe in the street is accompanied by the blasting guitars of Rammstein’s song Führe mich. Rammstein’s sound is dark, with distorted guitars and steady, pounding beat. Singer Till Lindemann’s voice is unique in its booming, ominous, brute masculinity and rough pronunciation of the German language. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of the mainly classical soundtrack. By being heavy metal, it encaptures a darkness and an “outside-of-society” notion, we associate to metal, and maybe also to Nymphomaniacs. There is also a sense of the unknown; the general society has little insight into a nymphomaniac life, neither into heavy metal as a genre, but has a conception of both to be dark, dangerous and deplorable.
The first reason for using this particular song might be Rammstein’s fame for sexual topics in their lyrics. Many of their songs of several albums are centred around different and mostly tabooed types of love and sexual relations, which include violence and abuse. Adding to the title Nymphomaniac, this connection of tabooed sexualitiy could be one reason.
Another reason could be related to the allegations of nazism in both Lars von Trier and Rammstein.With the release of Melancholia he made a controversial comment, concerning his new found German identity although believing he was jewish. He said now he “understood and sympathizes Hitler” – which resulted in him being banned from the Cannes Film Festival. Rammstein have also been met with criticism for their nazi-like
imagery and performances. However they have many times stated to be against such ideologies. They can be understood simply as heirs to the New German Wave of the 80’s, rooted in Post-Punk and known for using shock to convey harsh political messages. Rammstein being used in this movie, right after this scandal could be considered thus a message by von Trier that his comments were mere provocation.
When looking up the music of this movie, the above mentioned reasons will be the most popular visions of why this song is used. However for those two reasons, one would not need to use this particular song. Führe mich is a bonus track of the 2009 Liebe ist für alle da Album, depicting a twisted union of two souls in one body, one ruling over the other, the other depending on the ruler. One could argue that the use of a song with a sexual content would be just as effective if not more. For example the song Pussy which has partly english lyrics. Or the song Rein raus, which is more focused on sexual pleasure. Yet the choice was Führe mich. If we take into account the DOGME 95, there ought to be an internal reasoning, representing the truth they wanted to express above all else. So what truth could he ”forcing out” of Joe?
There is a loneliness that accompanies her which we can see throughout the movie. Beginning with the mother’s “abandonment”, to her abandonment of her own child and lover. And at the end Joe ends up beaten in an alley, alone. She is unable to live a normal life because of Nymphomania. It dominates her life several times, although she wishes to live differently. We can see this when her father is dying and she is crying while having sex, due to his worsening state. It shows when she leaves her son behind not being able to resist going to a BDSM session, or when she tries to go into therapy to save her job. It’s the only thing that is always by her side until the end, no matter how much hardship it brings her.
And I would also take into consideration the moments where we can hear rock music, albeit not being heavy metal they still contrast to the rest of the classical music soundtrack. The song Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf for example, often considered to be the first “heavy metal” song. This song is heard when she and her friend “B” take the train to have sex with as many men as possible. She is enjoying her life and her condition here and the song has a much more rebellious connotation. The song Burning Down the House by Talking Heads is the second example. It first shows when Joe leaves therapy proclaiming her pride of her Nymphomania and uses it to find a new work, however illegal it may be. The rock songs thus mark moments where she lives well with her condition, where they stand for rebellion and pride.
But the darkness remains, as she is dominated by the illness and it will remain the only constant in her life until the end. This duality of surrender to and struggle with her condition reflects back to the depression Lars von Trier experienced. Often one gives in to the negativity of depression, and most people will struggle their entire life with recurring fallbacks while managing daily life. The Rammstein song represents that.