Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day 118: A Dangerous Method

"I think Freud's obsession with sex probably has a great deal to do with the fact that he never gets any."

David Cronenberg, no matter which genre he works in, always brings an interesting perspective to it. I would say that his remake of The Fly is one of the essential science fiction films of all time, and certainly outdoes the original in all respects. Naked Lunch is probably the closest anyone will ever get to putting Burroughs on screen in a way that honors his work (even though Nelson Muntz can think of at least two things wrong with that title). And his most recent film, Eastern Promises, put an interesting twist on everyone's favorite genre, European gangster crime dramas with male frontal nudity.

With last year's A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg turns his focus to the fathers of psychoanalysis & awesome facial hair, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) & Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Working from a screenplay by the severely underused Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), Cronenberg manages to button down one of the most buttoned-up eras in history, Victorian Germany. An hysterical woman, Sabina (Keira Knightley), is brought to Burgholzli Clinic in Zurich where Jung begins to work with her to discover if she really is in the throes of hysteria, or if there's something more to it than that. He begins talking to her about what can only be described as her deviant sexual behavior. She tells stories of being turned on by her father beating her, and how much it excited her. So yeah, she's got some issues.

Two years later, Jung travels to Vienna with his wife to meet Freud, who is introduced doing what else but smoking a cigar. The two get into some deep discussions about this and that, but Freud clearly wants to know what Jung's been up to with his Russian patient he's heard so much about. It's never outright said, but Freud certainly implies that his being Jewish gives him a much more keen insight into the human condition than Jung's own reflective religion. I find this interesting, particularly considering that Jung was one of the very few psychologists who believed that our spiritual life had a direct result on our happiness.

The film comes to life a bit when Freud sends a fellow psychoanalyst, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), to stay at Jung's clinic. Otto is the first one to plant the seeds that Jung needs to be laying some pipe in his patients, namely Sabina, in order to really understand what's going on in there. The interplay between Cassel & Fassbender is the much more interesting dynamic in the film for me, probably because they're both actors interested in relishing every word of dialogue and they use their scenes to one-up one another and their back-and-forth is fantastic. The scenes between Freud & Jung are severely lacking in this kind of fire. It also doesn't help matters that Viggo is wearing a ridiculously distracting fake nose.

The film spends a lot of time nailing the details of the era, and it's never short of gorgeous to look at, but the performances are so dry, they make the Sahara look downright humid. While I've never watched a single episode of Downton Abbey, I imagine it to be a lot like this, people in fancy costumes, talking a lot of nonsense, and all the meaning is in the subtext. And I also imagine them saying "what, what" a lot at the end of sentences.

So, what's A Dangerous Method all about? What is this method, and what makes it so dangerous? I don't know, really. Banging your patients might be a start. Considering that Gross went on to become an anarchist is probably a good indication that Jung shouldn't have listened to him in the first place. Obviously Jung wanted to get up in Sabina, and Otto's rationalization gives him license to give in to these desires, but it doesn't gain him much more understanding of her inner life.

Maybe I missed something. I always feel like Cronenberg is fifteen steps ahead of his audience, and by the time we catch up, he's on to his next film. Or the film after that even. I'm still not even sure I get what the fuck eXistenz was about, and that was like six films ago. Either way, I always look forward to his next film (especially his next, Cosmopolis, based on the novel by Don DeLillo) and I guess more than anything else, that's an indication of what a great filmmaker he actually is.

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