A Dangerous Method
Though there is always a lot of theory involved in the thinking, and a decent chunk of a thesaurus too, the content of the average review flows usually from an internal instinct, the ideas ingrained in my mind simply inviting themselves out through the keys, rather than some well thought out cerebral process; those of you who have had to read them may be thinking right now that this is more than obvious, one of many reasons why I myself never look at these things after they’ve spilled out onto the page. In this instance though i’m not really sure what I want to write, but it’s not for any lack of interest. No, I have thoughts on the film but they just aren’t coming free, something has them stuck up there amongst the synapses and I just can’t seem to jolt them free. There is one last approach left to take however, an entirely appropriate one given the topic of the film in question; so i’ll follow Freud’s method, the famous ‘speaking cure’ and see if simply sitting and spitting out words will help reveal those repressed thoughts.
First I thought i’d try some word association and where better to start then the beginning? Method. Given all that this new title suggests – the original theatrical script was titles The Talking Cure – one would assume that this film was going to be about said method and perhaps even the dangers of its implementation but neither are really shown as important, nor are they ever actually explained. The film instead decides to focus on other areas. Story. Normally I would complain when biopics such as this force the achievements of their characters and how they came to be into the structure of a story, but in this instance I feel that the film could have benefitted from more of this approach. Freud and Jung both pioneered the field of psychology as we know it today, but that is basically stepped over in favour of their other pursuits and dramas. Sex.
The Father. Though the film jumps through time and trope with great abandon its events are all tied to two separate but occasionally intertwining stories: One is the relationship between Jung and his mentor by association Sigmund Freud and the other Jung’s reaction to the first patient to receive their patented ‘talking cure’. Sex. Though there is initially some spark between the two great men Jung’s eventual feud with Freud is ultimately pretty underwhelming; a peaceful parting of ways between two men who were seemingly never that much enamoured with each other in the first place, nor the kind of people that air their feelings openly, what with both of them being professional listeners. So the film never makes any attempt to involve us in their argument; nothing is explained in detail and so there are really no sides for one to take, though you could argue that the film itself still does. Jung’s more forward thinking theories seem to be at the centre of Freud’s fury and these more para-normal elements are given positive reinforcement by Cronenberg each and every time that they are mentioned; the bookcase always pops and the dreams are always prophetic.
Director. The film is reminiscent of War Horse in the way that it harkens back to a certain stylistic era, though in this case it is classic European cinema, perhaps even Merchant and Ivory, that are being evoked. The audio of Howard Shore’s classical wrought iron score thunders gracefully over the top of the on-screen action in a be fittingly subtle but operatic manner; while visually the lighting, the soft focus, the simple sets and stunning scenery all stand unique to themselves but at the same time they bring with them this strange sense of familiarity. You find yourself wondering, “When was this made?” and by whom, because it is so unlike anything that Cronenberg has ever done before. Actor. Though their material is never that powerful the two male leads that he made it with are as impressive as one would imagine: Fassbender is quiet but never boring while Viggo veritably disappears into his role as the famous psychotherapist, virtually emitting electricity through every scene in which he appears. Neither are all that memorable though because they are attached to such mediocre material.
The one performance that will surprise you though is that of Keira Knightley as the aforementioned patient, the woman who worms her way in between these two wonderful minds and wrenches them apart. She is perhaps the reason why I was so perplexed by the picture because she is so central to it and her acting is so enigmatic. I can see and understand why many will have written her off as the weak element before even entering the cinema and for those non-few her first few scenes will likely be laughable, but for the rest of us she could well be a revelation. There are number of new ‘mentally ill’ roles written each year and these never fail to earn their accolades for their actors, but Sabina Speilrain is something else entirely; to put it crudely she goes ‘full retard’ in a number of scenes, showing us an entirely unglamourised version of someone who is going insane.
One to the things that will either have you riveted or rolling with laughter is her jaw, yes you heard me. To my mind Keira Knightley’s jaw gives the best performance of the entire film: it involuntarily juts out beyond comprehension, stretching not only her skins but her credibility as a human being; it is body horror at its best, that classic Cronenberg quite literally pushing through into the picture. Again though, despite the terrific performance the character is something of a failure – this time too extreme, to the point of being re-rendered as ambiguous – despite being utterly fixating to the viewer for the entirety of the film. I’ve never been so enthralled and intrigued by a film that I have also found disappointingly uninteresting; it doesn’t make sense and yet it is. The only explanation is that I wasn’t focusing on the right things Sex or that there was something of interest there that i have either repressed Sex or are to repressed to cognate on openly Sex, but Sex who Sex knows Sex?
If you were to ask Freud he would of course tell you that this film is all about sex – a topic that Cronenberg is no stranger to, see: Crash – and on that I find it hard to disagree with the man though I would seek to further clarify that a little. Sex is at the heart of each of the central stories, i would go so far to say that the film is fixated upon it, but rarely is this in a literal sense; the film is actually rather repressed itself. So it’s not about the details, it’s not about the explicit but rather A Dangerous Method is about trying to draw the line where sex differentiates into both bad and good. Sex with your wife= Good. Sex with someone you love = Good, but what about sex with someone you love who isn’t your wife? What about sex with two people you love? What about none at all? Surely that is bad? And so instead of an inside look at their professional lives we are taken inside the personal affairs of Freud and Jung and asked not who better understand the psych but who has the healthier approach to procreational acts; is Jung repressed or Freud obsessed?
While this may make the film more of an individual statement from Cronenberg it also makes it a much less satisfying one for me. I could have used more detail to distinguish this from every other imagined tale of an illicit affair. In fact I could have done without the affair at all, to my mind we are a sex-obsessed culture, one that already makes too many movies about the act and far to few about men such as Freud, but that’s just like my opinion man. The film has a few glaring gems and a few fatal flaws but I don’t feel that either are all that important because any objective rating I give would be inaccurate; though it has much less punch than a positive or negative response would I’m going to have to stick with the subjective and rate this film Interesting and leave it at that, think what you will.
Whew! What a relief. I feel much better now and I also better understand my thoughts on the film. All that and I also managed not to slip up and tell you about that time I (Oedipal reference removed) .Sex.