Sophie Kennedy Clark

by Sway Benns

The Incompleat Angler
“I discovered my cunt at age two.” Thus begins Consummate Ruler, Lars von Trier’s, Nymphomaniac: Volume 1. This remark is jarring, unusually so, considering the architecture of the presented allegory. It will take on a metronomic quality, reverberating through: the marathon coitus of the anal, oral, and vaginal ilk; the delirium; the advice from B—played by Sophie Kennedy Clark—to simply “think about the pack of sweeties,” you’ll win while performing a sex act with a stranger in the bathroom of a train car.

The Jungian Archetypal Theory describes a series of hoary inclinations buried in the collective unconscious. We see them in the repentant sacrificial maiden (The Caregiver; a martyr) in Sergey Gorodetsky’s “Yarila,” and the reality television stage moms (The Ruler; explanation unnecessary) whoring out their offspring for a chance to tan in the glow of residual limelight. However far removed, however unique experience feels, Jung believed these narratives simply exist on repeat, ad nauseum.

Archetypes are—as explained in Carl Jung’s essay “On the Nature of the Psyche”—intrinsic to the human condition: They fill in the existential margins of the human condition, underscoring: a sense of curiosity, our desire for gratification, search for the meaning of life, feelings of the inevitability of isolation, awareness of the inescapability of death.

The twelve archetypes most commonly delineated in human narratives, neatly self-categorize to represent: the ego, the soul, and the self, by way of; The Innocent, The Orphan, The Hero, The Caregiver, The Iconoclast, The Destroyer, The Lover, The Creator, The Fool, The Philosopher, The Visionary, and The Ruler.

Sophie Kennedy Clark started acting because she wanted to tell stories. This is what she’s told the interview circuit, several times, when—as a newly minted actress in a film titled Nymphomaniac might be prone to—questions become cyclical.

“Sophie—why acting? Sophie, what’s it like to fake an orgasm in a room full of strangers?”

I think about this as I sit on the phone listening to static, waiting to connect with Clark via her manager. She’s in mid-afternoon headspace, painting when she should be reading lines [She admits “it may turn into a painting or it may end up in the bin, I’m not sure.”], wandering through a house without Internet. Consequently her “evenings are spent like Pride and Prejudice,” though she allows “I don’t do embroidery by candlelight.”

I start with the theme, which—after some fumbling—needs to be clarified: “Oh lists. I thought you said lisps, like speech impediments,” she says, laughing with what one would assume is a sense of deep relief.

I explain my voyage into her press clippings, Carl Jung and the archetypes, and propose we discuss. She agrees enthusiastically. Clark further expands on that oft-asked question of this press circuit, and here she is The Iconoclast; “Me telling stories doesn’t just end with acting.” […] “Everything I do from the kind of sublime to the ridiculous is to be able to have a good story to tell people about at some point or another.” [She’s prone to one-off solo trips to Morocco, for instance.] Inherently, this involves risk. “I’ve learned really hard lessons living life like this.  And for me part of my kind of character and being who I am; I’m very lively and like entertaining people even if it’s going down to the pub with my mate.” This can be limiting—in the eyes of her beholders—psychologically, “I suppose people don’t want to see any weakness in you whatsoever because you are the one that makes them laugh, you’re the one that gives them the pep talks. It was very interesting for a lot of my friends to watch Philomena—where I am kind of quiet—because they’re not used to seeing me doing any of that, I’m sure that there are so many different sides of myself to different people for whatever reason.”

The canonical definition of an archetype positions itself as a rule, with finite ends, and yet—as humans—we’re prone to variations, though Clark does appear—as Stellan Skarsgård’s character in Nymphomaniac would say—prone to “cut the nails on the right hand first,” and by that I mean—archetypally, Sophie Kennedy Clark is A Fool and An Innocent: A self-confirmed “stupid optimist.” Is, in fact, “optimistic about almost everything.”

I, The Philosopher (a loyal pessimist)—wondering if our search for meaning can be satiated—ask Clark, if she thinks achieving true happiness is possible.

“I think what people often confuse happiness with is balance. Balance is something I don’t actually believe in. What I’ve realized is, it’s a place you stop over when you go from one extreme to the other, it’s rarely a place you get to stay,” she asserts, noting that despite the unbalanced nature of her life, she is happy. Very much so.

I mention to Clark that this blithe optimism seems to lend itself to her acting. I can’t place its genesis, until she explains, “Yeah. I also have very little shame. I have done all kinds of things in audition rooms, played characters or the things you get asked to do without preparation. Some of which are completely mortifying. You find yourself being three different people in one day. It is completely bizarre.” What might Jung say of shame, which seems apt to birth isolation, and exists as the intrinsic fear of The Orphan?

This isolation permeates the ether in Nymphomaniac: Volume 1. The lead, Joe—played by Charlotte Gainsbourg—spends a large portion of the film emphasizing how terribly damaged she is in her quest for unregulated carnal gratification. Sophie Kennedy Clark’s role as B—an adolescent Joe’s best friend—exists as a counterpoint. B is sexually casual; servicing strangers on a train, cofounding a mildly adorable horny teenage girl gang with Joe. The group’s signature tune is—aptly—the Devil’s tritone. Assuming Nymphomaniac must peter along on its own archetypal three notes, I propose to Sophie: The Lover, The Destroyer, The Creator. “For me Nymphomaniac will fall between The Destroyer and The Creator—more so than The Lover. The story [is] not about love. None of the film is about love—maybe lack of love. People have asked me what I think the theme is of Nymphomaniac and honestly
I think there are so many [themes] interwoven into telling the story, that
I think it would be too bold of me to say that Lars [von Trier, the sometimes Ruler, sometimes Visionary] only thought of one.”

Much has been made of the sex in Nymphomaniac, though upon viewing, it feels clinical. It seems there’s nothing sexy about being an addict.

“No, no but to be able to portray to the audience that she is a sex addict—in its truest form—you’ve got to show sex. Certain filmmakers won’t ever go as far as Lars von Trier but that’s why we love and watch his films, because he takes it a bit further.”

“And they’re uncomfortable for that reason,” I suggest.

“They make you feel something. You come out of the cinema feeling something. It’s such a wonderful thing when you come out of an artistic experience and you want to talk about it, you’ve thought something in your mind, [and] you want to sit there and talk to someone about it. I think that is great. I think that is what art should be.
I think [after] a lot of films people leave and they feel very passive about it.”

Here, I’ll clumsily draw comparison to the opening night of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and the orchestral arrangement driving the audience to riot. The accompanying choreography lifts many of its themes from Gorodetsky’s “Yarila,” and the composition uses a repetitive dissonant polychord to assault and disturb the listener. And yet it’s rumored that a deeply sensitive Stravinsky, horrified at the piece’s reception, escaped backstage mid-performance to grieve.

With this in mind, I ask Sophie Kennedy Clark about Lars von Trier.

“I had built up what I thought Lars was going to be like in my mind before I met him—just because of all of the hype that surrounds him—and he couldn’t have been more different. This Machiavellian director that 
I made up my mind kind of pushed actresses to the limit where they crumble and give up acting forever. He is so soft-spoken and such a gentle man, and he gives actors creative license and puts such faith in them you could [only] hope for in
 a person in any profession. I’ve never worked with anyone like him and I would love to work with him again, the way that he works is so organic, unpainted, and very natural. He really brings to
 a head all you can get. It’s a very liberating experience.”

It’s not hard to imagine Clark on stage at the Paris Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the enthusiastic sacrificial maiden, gleefully charging forth into her own tritoned danse macabre, as Stravinsky himself would say, “Till the end, my dear.”



Photographer: Valeria Cherchi at Stylist: Francesca Turner. Hair: Tracie Cant for Makeup: James O’Riley for Manicure: Ami Streets for Producer: Seona Taylor-Bell. Styling Assistant: Francesca Hope. Location: The Savoy, London.

Beauty Notes: Les Beiges healthy glow sheer powder SPF 15, Le Crayon yeux in noir, Body Excellence Nourishing and Rejuvenating Hand Cream, and Le Vernis Nail colour in delight by Chanel.