Sunday, January 1, 2012
A Dangerous Method
David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method is so self-consciously ponderous, so stubbornly plodding and so unapologetically dull that it’s a wonder it hasn’t picked up more steam heading into awards season. Is it too much to hope that Oscar voters are finally learning that boring does not equal important?
The film follows the relationships among three very different psychotherapists in the early days of the profession. You are probably familiar with Sigmund Freud (a cigar-chomping Viggo Mortenson) and Carl Jung (the seemingly omnipresent Michael Fassbender). You may even be aware that they had a contentious relationship that lead to a falling-out. What was new, to me at least, was the character of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a young woman who comes to Jung as a patient, only to eventually become much more and come between Jung and his mentor Freud.
Knightley gives an unrestrained performance as the severely damaged and repressed Sabina. The physicality of the performance is perhaps its most impressive aspect. Her jutting chin and wandering, gnarled hands are captivating, and the wrenching revelations of her character’s trauma are the high point of the movie.
It’s terribly unfortunate then, that this high point occurs far too early. After Sabina becomes relatively stabilized and starts studying psychology on her own, the film devolves into a boring look at the relationship between Jung and Freud, which is mostly visualized through a montage of letter-writing. Yeah.
As for Sabina, she spends the rest of the movie playing out a period-piece Secretary remake in her relationship with Jung, and serving as a voice of conscience. It’s a disappointingly stereotypical, cliched female movie role, especially considering what an extraordinary, groundbreaking life Sabina Spielrein really had. That Cronenberg is far more concerned with the clipped, reserved, slightly nutty Jung probably says something not all that flattering about him.
The film takes a bizarre amount of pride in refusing to justify its existence. If it has any point to make about psychoanalysis, it is hopelessly esoteric. At best it raises some obvious but unanswerable questions about the state of human nature. (This is mostly done through the small role of Otto Gross, a hospitalized psychologist with unusual theories on sexuality.)
A Dangerous Method whimpers to its close with the blandest closing shot imaginable, and then tops it by resorting to the cheat of title-card updates on what happened to the film’s characters. Sabina’s title-card only made me wish even more that this was a biopic of her, and not the two stuffy perfomances at its center.