David Cronenberg’s Dangerous Disaster

26 Oct

So the end of the festival is imminent. As of Monday my personal work there was done. It was a fantastic festival – huge highs and not so many lows. Things were going almost perfectly until I watched A Dangerous Method. Having been routing for Keira Knightley to finally stick her two fingers up at audiences who think she’s nothing more than a pretty face, I would have thought taking on such a daring role as Sabina Speilrein in David Cronenberg’s (The Fly) A Dangerous Method would finally prove the world wrong. Oh no, instead how wrong Cronenberg must have been to have thought she could have taken on this role in the first place. Unfortunately along with Cronenberg’s made for TV movie styling of the film, her performance was, for me the most problematic of this overall awful film. However having left the screening with some people liking not only the film itself but her performance, I decided to scour the internet to read other reviews (from Venice) on the film – luckily I found I was not alone in my sentiments.

This particular blog  written by Thomas Grimshaw from Shooting People’s blog actually took the words right out of my mouth, so I thought rather than ramble on and double up on inefficient workload, I would, in this particular instance, just point you in the direction of his wise words instead. Such a shame – I really was hoping for more with this film – but here you go…

Thomas Grimshaw ask’s David Cronenberg what the christ went wrong?! 

When it was announced that David Cronenberg was to direct the screen adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure, there was a palpable buzz in the air. Given Cronenberg’s history of producing idiosyncratic and rigorously intellectual films with a taste for the psychoanalytic, the idea that he was to venture forth into the combative relationship between Freud and Jung was a tantalisingly sexy prospect. Set in turn of the century Vienna, A Dangerous Method details the relationship between psychoanalysists Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and a disturbed young woman named Sabina, who will later become the renowned female psychoanalysist Sabina Speilrein. When Jung begins an affair with the girl, the fallout ruptures the relationship between the two men and sets them both on different ideological paths; Freud in favour of a treatment rooted in scientific method whilst Jung drifts towards a counsel of hypothetical mysticism.

Given all we know about the film there was hope of this giving rise to a jamboree of sexual peccadilloes, strained Germanic accents, death and an air of haughty perversion.  The question that must be asked then, is, what in Christ’s name went wrong? The fact that I was unable to determine whether this was in fact a comedy or not seems as good a place to start as any. Admittedly I laughed: lots in fact, but the stoic, hardened faces of its cast whilst delivering its diluted crib-notes on psychoanalysis and shamanism seemed at odds with the bountiful laughter occurring around me.  That said, Cronenberg has always garnished even his most disturbing work with a perverse sense of humour, however if that same fact applies to A Dangerous Method it would appear that Cronenberg’s idea of comedy has regressed to that of a child learning about the birds and the bees.  The other fairly major stumbling block is that for a film so concerned with the concept of sex, is how unbelievably impotent the whole affair feels. Apart from Sabina getting herself royally spanked by an over eager Jung, the film barely visualises the topic that get Freud and Jung all hot and heavy in the first place, instead restricting it to the world of musty drawing rooms where the smell of sex is nowhere near as potent as the smoke emanating from Freud’s phallic cigar.

Despite the initial guffaws that surrounded the casting of Nordic cave-dweller Viggo Mortensen as the elderly, bearded Freud, he’s actually one of the only actors to leave the film with their dignity intact, instead he seemingly has a blast subverting everyone’s expectations by delivering every line with a cock of the head and an ironic twinkle in his eye. Keira Knightley as Sabina fares much worse, when we first see her; screaming and contorting her body with such vigorous abandon she seems in fear of wrenching the whole film from its sprockets and cart-wheeling off down the road with it. Strangely though it’s Michael Fassbinder as the central figure Jung who comes off worst. Although not as violently grating as Knightley, at least the screen is somewhat illuminated by her schizophrenic energy, with Fassbinder the film comes to a stop; not so much a performance but a black hole of inertia that threatens to entropy everything in its path. After his charismatic turn in Shame it really is profoundly stunning that the man has managed to produce a performance of such claustrophobic tedium.  Finally, there is Vincent Cassel whose only purpose seems to be to demonstrate the compulsive, hedonistic pleasure principle (perfect casting) of Freud’s most famous concept. We know this because he uses cocaine and talks about his many, many mistresses; he couldn’t be more obvious if he had ‘id’ branded across his forehead. At least he has the decency to disappear within the first half an hour.

It really is incredibly perplexing how awful this film is at times, Cronenberg has definitely had his misfires over the years, but it’s certainly rare for a director of such regard to sink to such amateurish depths within only a short space of time, although History of Violence was serviceable; displaying moments of wit and genuine danger, Eastern Promises heralded a dramatic downturn in his talents and with A Dangerous Method now in tow the future looks less than promising. With his next film also on the horizon; an adaptation of Don Delilo’s Cosmopolis, we can only hope that the safety net of familiar postmodernist territory can shield him from the looming sense of castration that effectively killed off the careers of Brian de Palma and Paul Verehoven.

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