While I had seen a few David Cronenberg films well before I had decided to "get into him" as a filmmaker, it was around June of last year that I finally encountered him as a director proper and slowly notched his oeuvre off of my needs to be seen list. Considering that yesterday was his birthday and that I had A Dangerous Method delivered the other day via Netflix, it seemed far to serendipitous an opportunity not to take. I am aware that there has been a sort of tapering off of the love for Cronenberg by his fandom as his films have move far away from their more gore inspired roots to something that at first glance seems to be cerebral and less physically affective. I can see the confusion for certain, but I am also wholly aware that body gore and affect do not need a visual component to work wonders. Indeed, it is with almost perfect precision that Cronenberg is able to take the deeply psychological and disturbing elements of the interior and make them work on the body without really showing the gore he has become synonymous with the director. Sure there are some deeply graphic scenes and the film is disconcerting, but this is Cronenberg moving in a new direction, after all as of yesterday the man is seventy one years old! To make The Fly or Scanners is simply not his world anymore, like most directors (Tarantino excluded) maturity brings forth a new look at the world and a far more introspective execution in his films. Hell, even Michael Bay seems to be moving in this direction and it should be no surprise that it occurs with the master of gore. If one is looking for film to affect them on a deep level, then Cronenberg is continuing to succeed in a way few are and were he not being overcome by the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher, I would be prepared to argue that he is one of the most important directors working today, but at seventy one to be mentioned in the same breath as the former filmmakers is a success all its own.
A Dangerous Method focuses on the work and life of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) as he continues to establish himself in the field of psychoanalysis, despite having to do so under the rather intense and broad shadow of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Although, Jung knows that this is a near impossibility when he is provided with the patient and prospective psychoanalyst Sabrina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) things change drastically. A frantic and disheveled woman, Spielrein, nonetheless, proves a counterpoint to so many of Freud theories, completely throwing the theorists understanding of abject desire and erotic fixation out the window. Jung begins pouring his entire studies into working with Spielrein, while also guiding her along in her endeavors. This act comes at the frustration and anxiety of Jung's wife Emma (Sarah Gordon) who is busy attempting to provide the doctor with a son, the only way in which to assure that his name will continue to possess legitimacy and avoid the existential fear of losing one's name. Yet, this seems to be of the most minor concern to Jung, who finds the navigation between patient learning and desire for Spielrein to become less and less clear, particularly when she begins making advances towards him, seeing his role as authority figure and teacher, overlapping with her own problematic relationship with her father. It is not until Jung is given another psychoanalyst turned mentally ill patient in Otto Gross (Vincent Cassell) that things change. Gross argues that Jung must engage in relationships with his patients in order to assure that he will become happy and better achieve a relationship. Blinded by his already repressed desire, Jung takes Gross's ill-offered advice to heart and begins a relationship with Spielrein, one that puts his familial relations at odds and eventually leads to his contentious and troubling confrontations with Freud. Finally, believing he has become friends with Freud, Jung offers up his dreams for interpretation, hoping to receive the same in return. When this does not happen, Jung questions the entire structure of authority, although this happens far too late to solve things with either Spielrein or his family, instead, Jung pours everything into work and solitary studies.
If one were to extract the psychosexual element at play in this film, it would read as pretty much another period piece of desire, lust and repression in a time of hyper-conservative conformity. There have been other films about the era of psychoanalysis, but the limitations of censorship often cause them to be confused and lost in safe narrative construction. Cronenberg, as most know, has always pushed the boundaries and buttons of censors, using giant bugs and non-linear narrative to make one of the greatest examinations of repressed sexual identities in modern cinema. Here, he is dealing with the perverse and in no small way he does so with it expressly meaning to shock. Under the guise of the cold medical rhetoric, Cronenberg is able to talk about the most uncomfortable of human functions in banal terms. When the psychoanalysts talk of the various fixations, many of which involve relieving oneself, the overlay of Jung consuming things makes a clear connection that human bodies are subject to exchanges that are in a constant ebb and flow. It is not so much an act of pleasure in the context of this film as it is replacing voids that are physically lost. Cronenberg takes the guise of excretion and argues that it is in these basic human desires that psychoanalysis seems to be replicating a mental understanding of something physical. It is heady academic theory and at this point has become more a point of literary consideration than anything certifiable, indeed, most psychologist just teach it as a point of historical curiosity. Where Cronenberg seems to relish most in regards to narrative is within a consideration of authority, it is in this space that he seems to find the body at a loss, a surprising moment for Cronenberg, who had prior tied the body to the world of television and video games. In the space of this narrative the body is a thing that can only be punished by authority, because rewards are seemingly less physical and far more cerebral. The basest of human desires often coming in as, again, fillers for hopes of approval. In the vague and dreary endings that have come to signify the filmmakers works, desolation and ennui fill characters who are blindly hoping for something far grander, but still linger on the failure and limitations of the body.
Key Scene: I was initially hesitant to embrace Knightley's performance as it seemed to be very Oscar-baity, however, one scene involving her recollecting a dream to Jung where she is in the foreground and he in the background. It is deeply intense and cinematically engaging.
I rented this, but intend to buy it soon. However, it is a different kind of Cronenberg than most expect, so I would suggest doing the same before pulling the trigger on a purchase.