A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011)
Not having seen very many of David Cronenberg‘s films (and most of those I have seen I have disliked), I was apprehensive about seeing A Dangerous Method, particularly as Kiera Knightley is hardly in my top 10 list of actresses (I don’t actually have a top 10, I perhaps need to work on that…), and absolutely hated Cronenberg’s 2005 film A History of Violence, also starring Viggo Mortensen.
A Dangerous Method tells the story of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Karl Jung (Michael Fassbender), their eventual split in approaches to psychoanalysis and the woman at the heart of this ‘split’ – Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Reading pretty much anything about the film gives the impression that it is some sort of ‘love triangle’ that caused the break in the relationship between Freud and Jung, but this is no love story.
There are a number of points I would like to discuss, but I feel perhaps there are too many for a blog post. Perhaps I could get my essay written and out of the way now…We’ll see how much space I take up with my ramblings before we make any decision.
The first thing that really struck me about the film was the colour, specifically the colours worn by the characters. The women – Spielrein and Emma Jung (played by Sarah Gadon) are seen throughout wearing pale colours, predominantly white, whilst the men are seen in dark clothing, very meticulously and smartly (stiffly) dressed. The only time this is changed is when we see Spielrein waiting for a car to take her away from Zurich, and also in her meeting with Freud, when she is seen wearing very dark clothing. We also see Jung wearing a light coloured (linen?) suit when talking to Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) about his desire to have a sexual relationship with Spielrein – a radical departure from the stuffy Jung we have seen previously.
The opening scenes of the film see Spielrein being taken to a psychiatric hospital, suffering from hysteria. To see a beautiful actress such as Knightley portraying someone suffering from hysteria will challenge anyone’s preconceptions about her acting ability, my own included. Cronenberg said in an interview with Sight & Sound Magazine
Basically we’re saying “This is hysteria.” We have examples of it here in photos, we have Sabina’s symptoms noted, and then we had some footage of patients suffering from hysteria. (James, 2012)
This is not just ‘hamming it up’ – this is real. The fact that we have a beautiful actress pulling these faces, and contorting her body into a range of uncomfortable positions shows the actresses utter trust in the director’s ability to not make her look ridiculous, it could have easily become a comedy moment.
We see an further hint at Cronenberg’s interest in ‘body horror’ after the first sexual encounter between Jung and Spielrein, when she looks at her dress which has a patch of blood on it – Spielrein seems somewhat pleased at this sight.
We see the momentof the ‘split’ between Freud and Jung played out on screen when they are boarding the boat for their trip to America. Jung goes off to the right, whilst Freud goes to the left. Jung explains that his wife had been left to make the travel arrangements, and that he was in a first class cabin. Freud looks displeased, is he jealous? Later we see the pair discussing their dreams, or rather Jung telling Freud about his dreams – Freud declines to share his saying ‘I’d love to tell you, but I don’t think I should…I wouldn’t want to risk my authority’. This moment is later referred to by Jung as the day he (Freud) no longer held any authority for him.
There are a few more points that I would like to discuss, but I already feel that this has become something of a ramble (my brain isn’t functioning too well at the moment – I apologise) and over long. So perhaps I will leave this for now, and return to it at a later date.
James, Nick. (2012). Analyse This. Sight & Sound. March 2012, p16-20.