Monday, October 24, 2011

PFF 2011: David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method

Part of the Masters of Cinema section of the Twentieth Annual Philadelphia Film Festival, one could make a claim that a film such as this gets a bit of a free ride from an auteurist like myself, but dammit, I don't care - the film is quite spectacular, no matter who directed it.  Even so, it is not your typical kind of spectacular - it's the kind of spectacular that sneaks up on a person.  At first unassuming, leading crescendo-like into full-bore Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method (missed at the New York Fest but finally caught here in Philly) is something one may not expect from the director, but at the same time, something completely in the madman's semi-psychotic wheelhouse.

Perhaps not as cleverly deceptive as A History of Violence (in my not-so-humble opinion, the director's greatest and gutsiest work) nor as balls-out as Crash (the other film in the Canadian's oeuvre that comes closest to a masterpiece), but only the man who gave us, along with the aforementioned two films, Dead Ringers, The Fly, and the filmic version of Burroughs' Naked Lunch, could have put so much disturbing dread, so much perverse glee into the now-infamous psychoanalytical battle song of the mystical Jung and the Svengali-like Freud.  Cronenberg is one of those directors with the ability to arouse and disgust you simultaneously, and once again, like in Videodrome and Crash (to name just two), he does it here in this tale of psychological horror disguised as an analytical period piece.  The film is subtly dirty, and that's just how we want it.

Cronenberg has always had a rather perversely funny way about showing sexual encounters in his film (and again, we must look back at Crash as the prime example of such perversity), so a film about Freudian psychoanalysis and the particular case of Sabina Spielrein, a patient and eventually lover of Jung, and the catalyst (at least in this version of the story, based on Christopher Hampton's 2002 stage play, The Talking Cure, which in turn was based upon the 1993 novel A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr) of the break between Jung and his one-time mentor Freud, was ripe for the Cronenbergian touch.  When we watch as Keira Knightley's Sabina is belt-whipped by Michael Fassbender's Jung, and see the look of orgasmic power shooting from the actress's surprisingly nuanced face, Cronenberg has enraptured us inside his own web of sexual obsession - and that is just what a film such as this needs to have.

Most attuned to the director's Dead Ringers (sexual obsession, psychosis) and, of course Crash (socially perverse actions that are merely the workings of a person's natural sexuality), but more subtly maneuvered (an attribute that comes with age perhaps?), A Dangerous Method , which incidentally also stars an especially devilish Viggo Mortensen as Herr Freud (in his third collaboration with the director), is a film that may seem a bit awkward at first as the viewer is not sure which direction one is about to take, but ends as a bubbling cauldron of, for lack of a better or more encompassing term, chewy Cronenbergian goodness.  In sum, both unexpected territory for the director and typically lurid Cronenberg material - a fiery juxtaposition that creates such an atmosphere as to make this one of the master's best and most mature works.

A Dangerous Method will open in limited release on November 23, with a national roll-out later (in time for the Oscar campaigns I assume, of which Viggo Mortensen could be a strong contender for a Best Supporting Actor nomination).  I will have a full review of the film coming right around that planned release date.


MP said...

I'm sure Cronenberg's world is perfect for the story of Jung and Freud. I'm a big fan of this filmmaker and since I first heard of the cast Mortensen and Fassbender I was already sold! Looking forward to this one!

Kevyn Knox said...

The sexually perverse world of Cronenbergian cinema and the deep-seated sexual psychology of Freud and Jung is indeed a match made in Heaven. Granted, we are talking a rather strange Heaven indeed, but a Heaven nonetheless.

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