For the third time in three movies 80′s gore fest auteur and modern day dramatist David Cronenberg teams up with his 21st century muse Viggo Mortensen for a totally different genre/character piece than before but portraying the confidence of an accomplished storyteller within it’s expected conventions. They are perhaps two of the most versatile artists working today. This time they team together to portrait on the big screen the untold story of the intense relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the founding fathers of psychoanalysis, and the woman who became between them when the two were in the midst of their groundbreaking research on the human psyche.
The focal point is represented by Keira Knightley’s character, Sabina Spielrein and her initial meeting with Carl Jung who, at the beginning of the film, takes her as his patient. Jung, played by Michael Fassbender, using Freud’s techniques tries to cure her and by doing so he further develops his own theories which eventually will run opposite from Freud’s on sexuality. In the beginning of the film Spielrein is admitted to the hospital where Jung is doing his research as she is considered stir crazy. Carrying on from her successful run of dramatic turns, Keira Knightley does a tremendous job in the part, for being one of the most photographed woman in the world she has no fear of being ugly and repellent to the audience and we live with her her pain and suffering. She was so good it was painful to watch, it felt like we were intruding into the life of this very young and deeply troubled woman.
The setting of the film is Switzerland in the late 1800′s and the perfectionist Cronenberg painstakingly does a good job recreating the atmosphere of those times but the story never goes anywhere, it jumps from moment to moment, situation to situation without ever going deep. It is not a biopic, it is not a drama, it is not a comedy, it is not a love story. It just seems to exist, despite how well made it is from a technical point of view.
Michael Fassbender’s character is full of good intentions and ideals but his heart is not in the film. Same thing strangely for Viggo Mortensen whose portrait of Freud seems a little superficial, an impersonation that looks like he came out of a bad BBC t.v. serial. Christoph Waltz had been attached to the role previously in what would have been a reuniting of the Inglourious Basterds between he and Fassbender but he decided to do Water for Elephants instead and perhaps his absence is felt here as Cronenberg called in his trusted friend Viggo at the last minute and maybe didn’t have the time to prepare for the role properly. Another Easter Promises alumni Vincent Cassel here is playing a caricature more than a character, it’s hard to believe he is a doctor and he’s only reason to be in the film is to convince Jung of the values of sleeping with his patients.
Cronenberg doesn’t seem to have a precise idea of what he wants the message of this film to be, his direction is plain, it misses his touch. A friend of mine after watching the film said that he would have preferred to have read the film, more than watched it. That’s a valid point, the film in fact looks more like a novel that’s been put on film line by line, without any consideration for the media that was being used and perhaps the story (based on a 2002 play by Christopher Hampton) should never have been considered for the big screen.
Most of the film is spent talking about psychoanalysis, sexuality and dreams; they touch the subject of polygamy without investigate it too much. Some people I was with liked the film, but I honestly still have not figured out whether I watched a bad documentary, a biopic or a drama. All the facts depicted in the film have allegedly taken place in real life, but besides Keira Knightly’s performance (which has its flaws as well) everybody else looked like they were still working on their characters, still looking for the “it” that turns a good job into a great performance. A rehearsal for a performance.
If there’s a book about this, then I highly suggest you to read it, as the story is fairly interesting. As far as watching A Dangerous Method, I prefer to leave it as a no comment, at least until I have figured out what I watched this morning.
A Dangerous Method is out in the U.S. on November 23rd and shamefully, not out in the U.K. till February 10th 2012!
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