Nov 25, 2011

REVIEW: A Dangerous Method (Cronenberg)

A new discovery! 11.00am on Thanksgiving morning turns out to be the perfect time and occasion on which to see Kiera Knightley getting spanked in the new David Cronenberg psychoanalysis flick! It's a pitiless, David-Cronenberg time of day, 11 o'clock in the morning. You're awake, but you haven't eaten a full meal yet, insatiate yet alert — the perfect state in which to take in a cerebral chamber-piece about fin-de-siecle sexual repression and the birth of psychoanalysis. Michael Fassbender plays Carl Jung, unhappily married, sexually repressed and therefore wearing a suit half-a-size too small for him, so the Fassbender physique seems to be bursting at the seams. Kiera Knightley plays his hysterical patient, jutting her jaw and screaming with a Russian accent at least two sizes too big for her so you spend most of the film waiting for the invention of valium. Best of all we have Viggo Mortenson as Freud — the happiest piece of casting I have come across all year. There is probably no actor today more in contact with his unconscious mind than Mortenson, with his air of Oceanic internal fixation, his mesmerising horse-whisperer manner and unerring instinct for where the bones of a part lie. Here he goes big on the cigars and chiselled shrewdness — his Freud seems to spend much of his time weighing chess moves against his detractors — but also remembers to make him a voyager, feeling his way in the dark, like Aragon on the threshold of the pit of Mordor. "Columbus didn't know what country he'd discovered," he says, "only that he'd touched land." The script has two versions of why Jung and Freud fell out: one involving their principled difference of opinion on whether psychoanalysis should be allowed to touch upon matters of religion, mysticism and the like; and the second involving their principled difference of opinion over whether Jung should be allowed to paddle the ass of Knightley, which looks almost as much fun as beheading Orcs. You'll never guess which turns out to be the more compelling plot-line. That's always been the way with Cronenberg, whose talking heads have always come a distant second to his exploding ones, and A Dangerous Method certainly tends towards the chalkier end of the spectrum — as befits its origins as a stage play by Christopher Hampton, there are one too many lines of the "I take issue with his dogmatic pragmatism!" variety — but it also summons a nice tone of subdued hysteria, like the thinnest of cracks through the finest bone-china, and the period is beautifully observed, the Fassbender-Knightley relationship playing out against a Lake Geneva that looks so placid and dreamy you'll easily believe it the birth-place of the Jungian unconscious. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! B

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