Wednesday, October 5, 2011
NYFF 2011: A Dangerous Method (2011) (or Keira Knightley's Chin)
This film began life as a screenplay called Sabine by Christopher Hampton about Sabine Spielrein, a patient of Carl Jung's, and one of the factors that caused a rift between Jung and Sigmund Freud. The film collapsed and Hampton turned it into a play called The Talking Cure, which David Cronenberg read and liked and decided to turn into a film (adding material from a book called A Dangerous Method).
The film A Dangerous Method is one of the big films of the New York Film Festival taking a featured spot as Gala Presentation. It is also on many people's short list for a slew of Oscars come years end.
Let me cut to the chase, this is a good, but overly praised film. Its an almost (intentionally)comedic film from David Cronenberg that suffers because it isn't as meaty as most of his other films are. There is also a good chance that if enough people don't find Keira Knightley's performance as silly as I did then she may get an Oscar (for best performance by a chin).
The plot of the film has Knightley's Sebine being brought into the hospital where Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is a doctor. He begins to use Freud's talking cure on Sabine to great effect. Eventually (about 50 minutes into the film) Jung and Freud meet and become great friends. Then things begin to sour as Jung heads into other directions and patient sent to him by Freud, nudges him into a relationship with Sabine.
It's an interesting story that never really gets all that detailed. I kept wanting to know more, but it never really told me enough that I felt like I had the whole story. To me it was a highlight reel spiced up by a couple of kinky sex scenes. (We do know that Jung did sleep with Sabine, we just don't know if spanking was involved).
Forgive the disappointment, it comes from the lack of meat. After listening to David Cronenberg Saturday at the New Yorker Festival and again after the screening I really would have liked more of the details of the relationship that he kept talking about being contained in the letters of all the principles. Again and again he spoke of how they recorded everything but we don't get it, we just get the highlights, especially with Freud, who is reduced to simply saying clever statements that just move the plot along. If he wasn't a real person I could argue he's simply a deus ex machina.
If you want a perfect example as to the lack of details consider a meeting around the time of the final break where Freud collapses. A meeting is adjourned Jung and Frued spar verbally and then Freud collapses as he is leaving. Why or what brought it on is never mentioned, it's simply used to give Freud a chance for a witty line to Jung. I'm sure the scene has great power if you know the story, but in the film, where its uncconnected to so much, the sequence just sort lies there. Clearly Cronenberg and Hampton and the rest of the cast and crew know way more than they ever impart on the audience.(This seems to be a common thread running through too many films at this years NYFF)
Its not bad, it never bad. Actually it's quite good...it's just not the great film that many people have said it is.
Lack of meatiness aside the films biggest problem is Keira Knightley. If her performance hits you wrong, you will be, like me chuckling through much of the film. Its a performance that is calculated to be showy and win an Oscar.
Its a performance that was worked out between the actress and director in an effort to show the effects of hysteria for what it is. Cronenberg said that what Knightley does is mild compared to what the records in photos and on film show of the disorder. Sabine was sent to see Jung because he was suppose to be able to help her with her hysteria but we don't see any anyone else so we are seeing Sabine in a vacuum with the result that her thrusting jaw seems laughable. I really mean that, devoid of anything we can compare it to, we see no other patient with the maladay,it comes off as a great deal of jaw motion and body twisting that just seems like show offy behavior from a well know actress. Actually we see no other patients for much of the film, we only see one of Jung's patients late in the game and she is sedate.
Cronenberg said that he wanted Knightley to behave like this because she was going to have to say dirty things and that the battle to say the words and repress them was going to make her thrust and move her jaw. I can buy the reason but did anyone actually look at it and her performance which in the early part of the film makes her look like Terry Gilliam in one of his maddest moments during a Monty Python sketch.(I have yet to see any of it in any clips because does look silly)
I probably shouldn't say that once she is cured we are left with a Russian accent that seems overly silly...but it's there and it's never real.
I'm not going to blame Knightley for any of it since it was clear that it's all Cronenberg's doing.
Again I need to say this is not a bad film, but it's not a great one either. Its a pleasant time killer that will be worth seeing when it comes out in a couple of weeks, I can't see running off to the Gala at the Film Festival.
Partly because the earlier reviews promised so much, but also because I kind of expected something... more... from director Cronenberg. I've been a fan for decades and always left one of his films feeling like I had a big sit down meal. This time it's more like having a donut on the fly.
(I know I promised a greater discussion of what Cronenberg said at the New Yorker Festival, but the shape of the review hasn't allowed for it. Maybe I'll whip something up once the festival is over)