Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)

Freud, Spielrein and Jung.

Here in "A Dangerous Method", David Cronenberg dips his fingers into the realm of Analytical Psychology. Directing this film with two of the founders of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, as the chief characters, Cronenberg, one of the most visually audacious filmmakers out there, is surprisingly mellow and at ease with reality here, add to the fact that "A Dangerous Method" is a historical period piece which follows a true story very closely.

But that does not mean that he won't play with some peculiar stuff here. Being a director of this film but at the same time also a keen observer of the entire psychological unraveling wrapped in its very debauched innards, Cronenberg covers various truly unspeakable things in the film but is utterly dignified while doing it as he navigates through every scene with a gentle demeanor. Of course, the fact that Jung and Freud, both blessed with the utter characteristics of the perfect gentleman, are the main players in this film has helped to make the film externally pristine as they walk through the equally elegant backdrops of Vienna and Zurich.

But, as they say, looks can be very deceiving.

With Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud being successfully played by great contemporary actors Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen (who has made his third film now with David Cronenberg) just like two genuine intellectuals wasting their days through the dissections of the human mind, it can be said that the very 'psychiatric' subject matter of the whole film should have stayed where it should have been: in Psychology 101 classes. Though at some points that's particularly agreeable, especially when the film seemingly begins to be too 'lecture-y' in its tone, specifically when Jung and Freud start to talk in a language that is too abstract outside of their field, the film still has managed to be truly riveting at some points.

Some of those said 'points' can be traced back to Sabrina Spielrein, played by Keira Knightley who just might have been robbed of an Academy Award nomination, and the brief but penetrating presence of Otto Gross, played by Vincent Cassel who has now made his second film with Cronenberg following "Eastern Promises".

Sabina, a hysterical young woman aspiring to be a psychoanalyst who's under the analytic care of Carl Jung, may initially look as if she's a lost cause, but knowing how she became a professional child psychologist after the events in this film while also changing the lives and the very field of both Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, the more that her utterances in this film increasingly become more and more fascinating as it goes.

While Otto Gross, the man responsible for goading Carl Jung's little 'experimentation' with the darker possibilities of sexual exploration via the deprived Sabina, is Jung's patient who believes that the thing we call 'maturity' is what he calls a mere 'parameter' that hinders people to achieve complete sexual fulfillment, among others.

Jung, initially introduced by the film as a seemingly stern man made almost invulnerable by the flaws of the mind, is surprisingly easily persuaded to try out Gross' view of sexuality. Cassel, a great French actor tailor-made for these kinds of edgy roles, is effortless as the subtly manipulative and magnetic Otto Gross as he delivers, in semi-cryptic utterances, his very own sets of sexual beliefs while greatly highlighting a tone of 'if you don't want to listen to me, it's okay' passivity.

Throughout the film, I can't really say if Fassbender and Mortensen, as great as they are as individual actors, both have made a truly cohesive chemistry in the film. Sure, their presences alone made this film worth the watch, but there's an underlying flaw that runs through the film's veins that speaks of forced character dynamics. Though some scenes between them gives the film its needed tension, especially in the scenes when they both exchange scathing yet formal letters as their professional and personal relationship dwindles into oblivion because of contradicting ideas and a terrible secret, I would have preferred if the film has been a bit longer. In that way, I believe the film could have developed the relationships better and also would have given way for more thematic exposition.

"Only the clash of destructive forces can create something new". At the time quite a revolutionary insight, Sabina, with those words, might have just also prophesized Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud's relationship. Cronenberg, now more than ever playing with words both conversational and philosophical in nature, has managed to throw into the air various intriguing ideas but was quite unsure of what he wants to do with all of it.

But in the end, I believe that the whole film, although it has dwelled within the deterioration of Jung and Freud's closeness both as a mentor to an heir and as a friend to a friend, comes down more strictly as Carl Jung's story viewed from the perspective of the grim reaper looking at the aftermath of a man who may have stumbled upon a great intellectual discovery but is internally destroyed by uncontrollable impulses and made weak by guilt as he drifts away in silently fractured contemplation, burdened by the visions of the apocalypse; of thousands of corpses bathing in the blood of Europe; of the First World War.

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