BluRay/DVD Reviews

A DANGEROUS METHOD

By • Mar 26th, 2012 •

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From a book and from a play, David (THE FLY, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) Cronenberg has fashioned an intelligent, probing, enlightening skim of the lives of three of the pioneers of modern psychiatric methodology – Jung, Freud, and their shared patient, Sabina Spielrein. With Otto Gross thrown in for good measure.

Keira Knightley gets top billing, and in the first act, devoured by neurosis, she’s making faces as grotesque as those made by Nicole Potter in STREET TRASH. Keira is afforded an opportunity here, and she rises to it. What could have ended up as mugging in Act One (and according to Cronenberg in his commentary track, some critics thought it was) is never really that. You believe her even as you grimace in horror at the physical contortions she is going through. In particular, she has this skill at protruding her jaw well in front of her face which reminded me of the creature in ALIEN. She must have been quite popular at parties as a youngster.

In the second act, she transitions into becoming a therapist and a mistress, which leads to some narrative suspense since we’ve seen what she can be like under the wrong circumstances. Then, in the third act…well, she kind of loses steam, but it’s definitely not her fault.

In fact, Ms. Knightley’s dramatic plight can also describe the arc of this sincere and rewardingly articulate film. Its first two acts are intensely compelling, even though much of the action is cloistered dialogue (a tribute to Cronenberg’s directorial skills). Michael Fassbinder is a believable Jung, and Viggo Mortensen is a revelation as Freud. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. He absolutely loses himself in the character (and the beard helps him a bit in his quest). Vincent Cassel, as Otto Gross, is also transformational.

It all – Fassbinder, Mortensen, Knightley, Cassel, the cinematography, the art direction, the dialogue – imparts the impression of truth. I was mesmerized.

More is the pity that Act three just couldn’t find its way home. The final sequences lose impact. Suddenly, and the further you get from the viewing, the parts become greater than the whole. Perhaps this is partially because Cronenberg chose to tease us with elements early on that were never resolved – like Jung’s peculiar belief in the supernatural, something of which Freud disapproved. It’s covered, very briefly, but in its brevity it gets in the way. Maybe it should have been left out entirely rather than placed there and ending up a distraction.

But it’s still a fine piece of work, of interest to all who find the subject matter provocative, and I would guess effective even for those on whose lists the evolution of psychoanalysis isn’t an overriding passion.

As to the supplementals, there is an AFI Harold Lloyd seminar featuring Cronenberg which is interesting. (Of course I was just naïve enough, initially, to think he was going to be lecturing about Harold Lloyd.) He comes across as dedicatedly intelligent, and also modest.

And then there is the commentary track, where we learn much more about the physical specifics of the project we have just watched. Cronenberg is not an exciting speaker, but one can tell, watching the images again as we hear him speak, how completely he immersed himself in the mise en scene. Going to the actual locations, tweaking them with CGI, gathering the props for the sets (which Mortensen did as well – they were quite the duo in this regard), and endlessly discussing minutia with his actors and crew.

I admit to being drawn to this film, aside from its having Cronenberg at the helm, by the promise of perverse thrills at seeing Keira Knightley getting spanked. Imagine my delight at finding that these scenes were the lure, but it was the film itself that gave me the greater satisfaction.

By the way, he never uses storyboards, thinking them the crutch of younger, insecure filmmakers.

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