Film-Related 2012

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Director and Star Unearth the Roots of Psychoanalysis

By Norman Wilner

12 January 2012

Source: NOW Toronto

© Hanway/Lago/Sony.
You could argue that all of David Cronenberg's films are psychodramas.

Think of the unleashed bloodthirsty ids of Shivers, Rabid and The Brood; the slippery interior journeys undertaken in Naked Lunch, eXistenZ and A History Of Violence; the secret societies explored in Videodrome, Crash and Eastern Promises; the identity crises of The Fly, Dead Ringers and M. Butterfly. The landscape of the mind has always fascinated the director as much as the canvas of the body.

In A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg tries something different, looking back to the early 20th century, when Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) debated the inner workings of the mind. Adapting Christopher Hampton's play The Talking Cure, the film traces the development of psychotherapy through the contentious relationship of its pioneers - and through Jung's thorny relationship with Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a patient who became his pupil and eventually his lover.

"It is all resurrection, for me," Cronenberg says in an interview at the Toronto Film Festival, "to bring them all back to life, so we can see and hear them in intimate moments we would never actually have seen - but the era as well, the epoch just before the First World War, so rich and pregnant with both disaster and potential."

Mortensen, who played tight-lipped heavies for Cronenberg in History and Promises, says he was less worried about bringing Freud to life than he was about pulling off the character's long speeches.

"It's always that way," he says. "The biggest obstacle, the thing you think, 'Oh, shit, how am I going to do this?' Once you make friends with it, it becomes your favourite thing about the project. To find a contrast between the more staid, austere, Lutheran [Jung] and this Viennese-Jewish urbane guy, it was really fun, and the way to do that was with the words."

Mortensen had the good fortune to play the one character in A Dangerous Method who's allowed to enjoy himself. The others are so repressed, they won't even fully undress for sex.

"The way they dressed was hugely important," Cronenberg says. "It was an era of very formal elegance. Women were corseted, with high, tight collars. [It's] the repressiveness of the era - but there was also an elegance and a beauty to it. You needed [the costumes and sets] to deliver not just the people but the tone of the era as well."

The attention to detail makes for an elegant drama, if an inflexible one. I ask if he was tempted to find a way to let his actors express some of their characters' tension.

"No," he says. "No, absolutely not. I mean, the tight, controlled structure of the movie replicates the society of the time, and the relationships. They never did allow themselves to go completely crazy, and for me to impose that on them would spoil this process of resurrection. They were always proper; they never let go completely.

"Even in the sex scenes," he adds, "it's never complete, wild abandon. Ever. To me, that's once again being accurate and faithful rather than trying to, you know, put rock and roll music over a period piece, saying, 'Well, I'm gonna impose some contemporary taste and ideas onto something that would never have happened then.'"
Last edited: 26 January 2012 10:59:58