A Most Beautiful Mind

Source: L'Uomo Vogue

© Hanway/Lago.
At the beginning, when Cronenberg tried to get Viggo Mortensen involved in A Dangerous Method, the actor was hesitant. "I knew Freud's writings, and I knew Jung's even better since I found him more interesting... I only knew Sabina Spielrein by name. I loved the play (The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton, based on a book by John Kerr titled A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein, ed.), but wasn't sure how such a complex story could engage the audience. I told David that if anything I might be interested in playing Jung. And that in any case, personal reasons prevented me from dedicating much time to shooting.

Sometime later, Cronenberg brought it up again, asking me to play Freud and assuring me that we could concentrate my scenes in two weeks. The first obstacle was that I thought of Freud as an old man, frail and thin because of his cancer. Instead, in the period portrayed in the film he was about 50, with an imposing physical presence and an extraordinary voice with which he expressed himself in superb German. As controversial and revolutionary as his thought was, he nevertheless had the ability to deeply engage others, to make them feel like an integral part of his vision. He was very seductive and charming, the kind of man who knew how to draw people in and persuade them to share his viewpoint. He also knew how to use people: he immediately recognized Jung's talent, but was also well aware of the objective advantages that his adhesion could bring to psychoanalysis. Jung was Aryan, Lutheran, and Freud saw in him the opportunity to present psychoanalysis as a universal doctrine, not a decadent pseudo-science generated by the tortuous reasoning traditionally attributed to the Jewish mentality. The relationship between the two was infinitely complex, modelled on that of father and son, full of ambition and reciprocal admiration and jealousy. They appreciated and exploited each other. Before Jung, Freud was the uncontested leader. Jung admired him, but challenged him. After reading their correspondence I didn't find them all that different from one another - their conflict was clearly more a question of pride and ego. The biggest difference was Jung's enormous interest in mysticism. Freud, though deeply proud of his Jewish heritage, was not religious. For him there was no greater authority than reason and experience. Reason was like a High Court, a legitimate means of examining reality, while religion was the product of the infantile mind, dominated by wonderment, fear and passivity." The 52-year-old actor, famous for his roles in The Lord of the Rings, two of Cronenberg's most acclaimed movies and the magnificent The Road, before playing any part asks himself whether he will find something that will enable him to connect with his character. "Well, the thing that triggered my identification with Freud was the discovery of his fantastic sense of humour, very dry and cutting. Before shooting I went to Vienna to do some research on what Freud was reading, apart from academic material. And I found the first editions of the satirical texts that he read. The other interpretive key for me was the universality of the theme - every son who lies to his father is a problem. I also worked a lot with Stephan Dupuis, Cronenberg's trusted makeup artist, to find Freud's face, his walk, his way of occupying space with his body... This was even more difficult for Michael Fassbender, because Jung lived much longer than the others and people remember him as being very old.

I hope that the film will also serve to draw attention to the original contribution to psychoanalysis made by Sabina Spielrein. Freud acknowledges it in passing (citing her contribution to the concepts of countertransference and the death drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, ed.) Sabina went to Vienna to work with Freud and they developed an intellectual relationship without boundaries. After the war she returned to Russia and began working with children. In a world dominated by men, a woman had to be infinitely strong and determined to make herself heard. Keira Knightley is extraordinary as Sabina. I don't know how she's perceived in Italy, but it seems to me that the English press is too quick to dismiss her. I think this film definitely showcases the talent she has already demonstrated elsewhere. There are scenes of hysteria where she takes her performance to the extreme, and some will say it's too much. I find it instead incredibly courageous - the feeling between actors is based on action and reaction, and she induces very strong reactions in you." A Dangerous Method is the third collaboration between Cronenberg and Mortensen, after A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, for which the actor received an Oscar nomination. "Nothing is definite yet, but I'm hoping we'll do a sequel to Eastern Promises. Usually sequels don't work too well, except for The Godfather, but in this case the ending left open a lot of possibilities: what will Nikolai do in his dual role as cop and head of a mafia organisation? What will happen between him and Vincent Cassel? Can something come of his relationship with Naomi Watts? He has both exploited her and protected her...

In studying Freud I found many parallels with Cronenberg. I don't know how David sees it, but I found myself using him as a model to create my Freud. Freud was constantly reinventing himself, his theories were scandalous, revolutionary and dangerous. But in everyday life he was an irreprehensible family man, a typical member of the middle class. The same applies to Cronenberg, who makes a lot of disturbing films, constantly studies impulses, desires, repressed aggression and sexuality, always obsessed with physicality. Yet if you talk to him he's calm as can be, innocent, with a great sense of humour. He doesn't in any way try to come across as an unsettling personality. Filming with him is fascinating, because he is certain that he will be able to exalt the tiniest details, the subtlest nuances of your work. At first his films seem normal, familiar, then you realize that they're always recognizably his - he has a way of framing a face, a detail that is unmistakably his. In Eastern Promises he managed to imbue every scene with the feeling that the characters were full of secrets... With Freud and Jung, this aspect comes out even more, you can feel it beneath the flow of words, something different... Freud studied with Charcot, so he knew that one must look at something for a long time, then look at it again and again before it will speak to you. Freud was a workaholic, a detective who constantly studied people until he uncovered something 'beneath' what they were saying. No, I didn't feel the need to undergo analysis to prepare for this film. For me, Freud was as much an artist as a scientist - he thought so himself - so I tried to capture the complexity of the artist." Mortensen is known for his commitment against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and is a critic of the Bush administration. "I was pleased when they elected Obama, but I was nevertheless still concerned about the disasters that we would encounter, from environmental ones, as demonstrated by Copenhagen, to those tied to the decline of the American empire. People say I'm negative - not true. I'm aware. The spread of the internet leads us to think that people are more informed than ever. They're not. People are tired of scandals and corruption and want to know less than ever."
Last edited: 31 August 2011 10:13:44
© L'Uomo Vogue.