Jung At Heart
A Dangerous Method 2011
Directed by David Cronenberg
Screening at UK cinemas.
Warning: This review will certainly contain some dangerously
heavy spoilers... and probably a few Freudian Gym Slips too!
I’ve mostly enjoyed the movies of David Cronenberg and have followed his work with great interest. Although marginalised, perhaps rightly for a while, as a horror movie director and, on top of that, a “body-horror” director (a marginalisation of a marginalisation), he has come to be a little more well respected over the last few years with releases of movies which are not obsessed with the disintegration, metamorphosis or derangement of the human body but which fall into more “popular” concerns. As this happened, the mainstream audiences and critics seemed to have been happy to have embraced him almost instantly... it’s as if they needed an excuse to let him into their club.
I’ve never thought any less of Cronenberg for being a horror director. Frankly I’ve never thought of him as anything other than an auteur... a man holding a genuine artistic vision which he uses as his goal posts to plug in various talents such as Carol Spier (who’s not with him on this production), Denise Cronenberg and Howard Shore to help him to realise his vision on celluloid (or whatever today’s nasty digital equivalent of celluloid is called). As someone trying to talk about him (or write about him and his work) here, I find it problematic that he’s moved away from horror films because his stylistic traits are much easier to tag on something like eXistenZ or Videodrome where I can lazily just point out the obvious similarities in the amorphous, fleshy environments his characters populate. Take away little “critic crutches” like this and I really need to go back and watch his movies again and dig deeper than what seem to have become merely surface details... or maybe just another phase of his career as an artist. I don’t have time to do that here though so, don’t expect much insight into his leanings from me here on this one.
One thing, however, that I did realise about Cronenberg's output while watching this one in particular, which perhaps should have been obvious to me before now (and perhaps it was and I just forget... I’m in my forties now, I do that) is that, although he certainly has a very sharp eye for the details and look of his movies, he is very focussed on performance. He wants to take the actors away from their own comfort zone and to strip away their body props and trade tricks and force them to explore the depths that his characters are reaching... and his characters do usually go right into the depths of their own dark psyches, more often than not, with the obvious luxury (seeing as he’s done so many horror movies where such conclusions are not necessarily considered box office poison by the producers) of being able to leave his characters wallowing in their own darkness, or often dead from it, at the end of the movie.
A Dangerous Method is a case in point. Keira Knightley’s performance, especially at the start of the film, is phenomenal. Yeah, yeah, okay... it could be considered oscar bait posturing (play a character with a physical or mental impairment and they’ll love you for it and awards will be falling on you out of trees) but, frankly, I found her absolute paroxyms of “out of control” emotional outrages to be really quite naturalistic and, in some instances, almost disturbing to watch... which is all good. I honestly haven’t seen Knightley attempt anything half as hard as this kind of role in the past and I think it’s a credit to both Cronenberg and his actors that they will push themselves and dive into these depths for him.
The film tells the real life story of Jung (Michael Fassbender) and one of his patients, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), and also his relationship with Sigmund Freud (played by Viggo Mortensen). Once Jung has ascertained the true nature of Sabina’s debilitating mental abberation, and pretty much cured her of this, the two embark on a sado-masochistic affair before Jung calls it off due to feelings of guilt about his wife. However, by the end of the movie and after his split with both Sabina and Freud, Jung is left alone and regretting ever leaving the woman he loved to this infinitely passionate degree for the rest of his life. Confronted by a married and pregnant Sabina towards the end of the movie, after having left her twice, he refers to her bump and says that “that should have been mine”. This movie proves without a shadow of a doubt that when it comes to the person you come alive for, whether you are already married or in a relationship or not, you choose to ignore the obvious passion of the person you are destined to be with at your peril.
It’s a very talky movie (which is fair enough since it’s based on both the play called The Talking Cure, as well as the book A Very Dangerous Method) but this is really not a problem... the screenplay is well written and interestingly, indeed, devastatingly (in Keira Knightley’s case) performed and will hold your attention if you are aware of the nature of the subject matter beforehand (I even found Vincent Kassel watchable in this... which is something that never really happens to me... maybe he’s an entertaining actor after all, I’m thinking). Basically, if you like pipes, sex, lots of smouldering (and that’s just in the male leads!) and a bit of “original” BDSM, then you are in for a treat with this one... and Keira Knightley goes topless too which is another good thing (and I’m guessing Mr. Freud might have applauded me for pointing that important fact out). Catch it while you can!