Thursday, January 05, 2012

vertiginous intellectuality

I came to David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" with an eager anticipation that he would somehow conjur up the juiciness of "Dead Ringers," his wicked 1988 examination of twin libidinous gynocologists (both played by Jeremy Irons!), and somehow top himself.

But, no, "A Dangerous Mind" in which the ever-adventurous Cronenberg traces the birth of psychoanalysis (and, by extension, the curious pleasures of sexual sadomasochism) isn't the playful exercise that I expected. It is a bit more literal-minded - and, surprisingly, middle-brow - dealing as it does with the protégé/mentor relationship of Carl Jung (a watchful Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (an astonishing Vigo Mortensen), before they became professinal frenemies, and the interesting case study, the hugely neurotic Sabina Spielrein (an aptly feral and theatrical Keira Knightley), who came between them.

Sabina preferred punishing sex and found a willing partner in her psychoanalyst, Jung, but their taboo sex acts (always staged fully clothed) come across as curiously discreet and a tad dainty. (Rarely has sex seemed so obligatory.) Still, it was enough for Sabina to pursue a career in psychoanalysis herself, verifying the suspicion that, egad, most shrinks themselves are possibly damanged in the head.

Christopher Hampton adapted his play, "The Talking Cure," (a title that says all, in the case of this movie), working in elements from John Kerr's book, "A Most Dangerous Method." The talk - and there's a lot of it - is both super intelligent and kinda filthy, with the tony characters managing to work the words "penis" and "vagina" into most conversations.

Reading this stuff on paper might be slightly arousing but, on screen, it all seems, well, impotent. But I've a hunch that's exactly the point the provocateur Cronenberg wanted to make. Still, I liked his film.

A lot.


Brian said...

I'd like to add something about about the kind of artifice in "A Dangerous Method" - just the kind of imagery in Cronenberg's stylistic arsenal. Look back through the history of the cinema and you will see plenty of artificial imagery in deeply misunderstood films. The reason this film has come in under the radar so far that Cronenberg is aggressively countering changing mainstream aesthetics as usual.

Alex said...

I am totally with Brian on my love for the artifice in "A Dangerous Method," particularly Knightly's controversial performance.

Sheila said...

"A Dangerous Method" is an imaginatively rich account of its three characters. I believe it to be Cronenberg's most mature film to date. Perhaps he was lucky. As Orson Welles once said, “a director is a person who presides over accidents.”

Mort said...

Joe, I just checked in on you after a long absence and read this and your comments about Jennifer Aniston. How I miss you. It all came home in one sentence. You are incredibly articulate, hilarious, opinionated and inciteful all at once.

Barbara said...