When going in to watch a David Cronenberg film, there should always be a certain level of trepidation with regards to the subject matter. Daring, as well as thought provoking, the seasoned director has always sought to shock, as well as entertain an audience with controversial subject matters. With his most recent venture, A Dangerous Method, nothing much has changed.
A period piece that documents the birth of psychosexual evaluation, the film’s main plot follows famous psychologist, Carl Jung, and his sadomasochistic relationship with fellow doctor Sabina Spielrein. With Michael Fassbender (Jung) as the main protagonist, Keira Knightley (Spielrein) as the unstable lover and, Cronenberg favourite, Viggo Mortensen in the role of Sigmund Freud, the film set itself out to be a thrilling journey, into dark depths of psychology that are so easily left untouched.
However, the story itself was quite divergent from it’s set-up. Perhaps a subtle nod to the psychology know-it-alls of the audience, several supposedly big plot-points were proposed, discussed and then immediately disregarded. For example, Freud and Jung’s journey to America served a lot of hype, with Freud’s implication of the two men “bringing the plague”. However, their travels after arrival were never talked about. The “plague” was never seen. It is the interplay between the two, on the journey and throughout, that is the real power behind the film. Instead of the focus being on sadomasochism and sordid relationships, the real point behind the film is, unsurprisingly, the psychological games played by the characters.
From the offset, the games begin. Where other films might have included shameless character exposition through speech, screenwriter Christopher Hampton sees to it that only the scene’s controlling character avoids any revelation, through dialogue, of past life experiences or character history. An interesting approach that remains constant throughout, leading to subtle power plays and delicate attempts between characters to gain the upper hand through analysing their counterparts. This is seen immediately; in the opening scenes, we hear nothing of Jung’s past existence, focusing solely on Spielrein. Again, this seemed to take away from the proposed plotline that the film’s trailer puts forward, opening up a door that was unforeseen and quite pleasant.
The acting throughout the film is difficult to analyse. As Jung, Spielrein and Freud are all real people, to question their portrayed mannerisms and habits may seem pointless, as it would be questioning real life. That said, Knightley’s performance, as the deranged, psychotic Russian is quite brilliant. Her pain and suffering seems, unlike her supposed accent, brutally real and, to begin with, quite uncomfortable to watch. Wrenching her jaw and struggling to get her words out, the character’s anguish, even if untrue to real life, was quite astonishing to watch.
From Fassbender we received another good performance. Long gazes into the distance, although sometimes overused, showed an inner torment that reflected his character perfectly. Mortensen gave a believable performance as Freud and his subtle nuances seemed, again, believable. However, the most enticing character in the film was anarchic polygamist, Otto Gross. Played in a cameo-like way by Vincent Cassel, the character added a roguish freshness to the stiff-upper-lip society that is set forward by Freud, Jung and Spielrein; his free-love attitude being the catalyst on Jung’s emotions.
Where Cronenberg failed in creating a high level of shock value for the audience to take away from, he has definitely succeeded in creating an engaging piece that has many, many layers to it. Behind all of the dark, sexual scenes, amidst all of the psychological mind games, there is a very dark yet humorous story, circling around two unrequited lovers that will, most certainly, stay in the audience’s thoughts. This is definitely a film to watch with an open mind, with the expectation of gaining a lot more entertainment from the second viewing.
Image reproduced from filmdates.co.uk and iceposter.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / trailers
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