Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2012)

A Dangerous Method - the new film from notorious canadian auteur David Cronenberg, his first since 2007's Eastern Promises, and his third uniting with Viggo Mortensen charts the relationship between psychologists Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) as they embark on the birth of psychoanalysis at the turn of the 20th century.

The story of Jung and Freud's fraught relationship and all their influence in the field of psychology is the perfect material for Cronenberg, you might even say he was born to make this film. So why is A Dangerous Method so unremarkable? Why is it such a sterile and underwhelming experience from one of the world's most exciting filmmakers?

With actors as assured and talented as Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, and man of the moment Michael Fassbender you can expect high levels of muscle flexing from these renowned thespians. Even Keira Knightley as the woman who complicates Jung and Freud's lives further holds her own in what could be a career best, though her performance isn't without its problems. The screenplay, written by Christopher Hampton and adapted from the play The Talking Cure flits about too much and doesn't focus and develop an area; inside there is a good movie trying to get out but the film's voice is lost and unfocussed and in the end feels tragically underdeveloped. It also suffers like so many other films adapted from plays do, in that the translation from stage so often doesn't gel and what we're left with is a very self conscious piece of film making. When you see an actor performing on stage you are very aware you are witnessing a 'performance', in film the results are so much more immersive unlesss it has any traces of Brechtian theatre involved, i.e. Goddard's Vivre Sa Vie (1962) or more recently Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997). A Dangerous Method feels like you're watching a play trying to be a film, the performances feel too knowing and so it's hard to fully divulge into the story despite the level of acting on show.

A Dangerous Method is very a much a part of the 'Cronenberg Project' in that it covers themes that run through his entire body of work - mainly sex and repression. Vincent Cassel's character speaks at length about sexual liberation and of course how can one not think of the chilling climax (no pun intended) in his debut Shivers (1975) . Even his more recent film Spider (2002) covers Oedipal complexes and trauma. So if Cronenberg is the perfect director for A Dangerous Method then why doesn't it suffice? It comes down to the fact that Cronenberg has always shown audiences images never imagined, these images were metaphors made flesh. In A Dangerous Method what we get is Freud and Jung developing psychoanalysis, an approach that was named The Talking Cure, and that is exactly what we get - a lot of talking. Normally at the end of a Cronenberg outing you have experienced something out of the norm, something only an auteur as unique and daring as Cronenberg could show us. Even in his crime dramas A History of Violence (2005) and the far from perfect Eastern Promises you know any other filmmaker wouldn't or couldn't go to the depths that Cronenberg went to, the emphasis he puts into the duality of mind and body. So its a shame that any number of directors could have made A Dangerous Method exactly what it is, or possibly even better.

Cronenberg's film isn't a failure, it's very much worth watching for the pure talent involved in it. What it is, is a disappointment that a film so unremarkable has come from such a remarkable director whose voice is normally so clear and un-compromised. Like the reputation of one of cinema's greatest visionaries, A Dangerous Method simply doesn't live up to its title.

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