No ashes, no coal can burn with such glow
as a secretive love
of which no one must know.
Sabina Spielrein’s diary (February 22, 1912)
Worrying reports reached us: Keira Knightley‘s performance as Sabina Spielrein was a serious disappointment in the latest movie by David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method, based on the book A Most Dangerous Method (as adapted for the theatre by Christopher Hampton). Meanwhile, Michael Fassbender said of the shooting scenes that there was a great atmosphere on set and that noone was prepared more than Keira Knightley. Which leads to the question: who should we believe more, the actress who did research for her role or reviewers and moviegoers who might not even be able to name Spielrein’s “disease”? Answers on a postcard to the usual address, please.
And while we’re on the subject of questions, here’s another often asked: is A Dangerous Method a typical Cronenberg movie? The answer is: why not? Sure, the poster which told us this film was by the same director of Eastern Promises and A History of Violence may have just focused on the allegedly “new” direction in Cronenberg’s career, but the fanboys who claim that the man doesn’t film like Rabid or The Fly any longer, are leaving out examples like Fast Company or M. Butterfly. Most of Crash wasn’t exactly body horror either (apart from you know which scenes). Cronenberg has always been interested in the mind, take Scanners which wondered what would happen if humanity lost its control. But if you prefer remembering it as the movie with the parasite in the bathtub, be our guest.
So if there’s someone who should make a movie about the psycho-analysts, who better than a director of the mind? Freud’s obsession with the link between mind and sex looks like a decent meal for Cronenberg and who better to stage the sex scenes between Jung and Spielrein than the director of Crash. After all, Cronenberg shot a scene where someone has sex with a wound and made it bearable to watch. Take that, directors of Hostel and the likes. The sex scenes are very much Cronenberg, shot in a clinical way that makes you the psychologist observing two volunteers in a sexual and psychological experiment. But don’t expect this film to be saucy: there are only a couple of sexual scenes.
In fact, that it’s Cronenberg who’s helming this film may be a blessing. A lesser director would have felt the need to beautify Spielrein’s situation: once she’d got her degree, you’d see her appear fully “normal”. But not here, between the lines you still see the woman who was brought to the hospital because she was hysteric. If that doesn’t suit you, your local videostore – if those still exist: another one bit the dust this weekend over here – will probably still have a copy of She’s All That or go for an Ugly Betty marathon: oh, when she takes off her glasses, this freakish nerd really becomes a genuine extravert beauty. Who would have guessed?
Or watch Water for Elephants. That is the movie Christoph Waltz left A Dangerous Method for. Now it’s not much of a secret that we’re not big fans of Ta****ino and Waltz’s sudden rise to fame because of that overrated movie didn’t necessarily make him more loved at the Avenue, but any idiot who leaves a Cronenberg movie will most definitely end up in our hatelist. Not even a year has passed and I can’t even remember what Water for Elephants was about (something to do with thirsty animals?), so kudos to Waltz for making such a wonderful career choice and even more congratulations to Viggo Mortensen who stepped in and did a marvellous job as Freud. Meanwhile, it’s Michael Fassbender (the only actor to upstage Gosling in number of interesting productions, it seems) who has the task of being Jung. Jung isn’t the most dynamic character and it may be more interesting to think about his “dangerous method” than to watch it unroll in front of your eyes. Of all the principal roles, Jung is the blandest to play and Fassbender managed to control his character. That doesn’t make this the most dynamic movie Cronenberg has ever made. Overlooking his career, this is closer to M. Butterfly. Your thought processes during the film become a more essential part of the viewing. Nevertheless, with a bland character it is hard to make an enticing film and this isn’t grand cru Cronenberg. Which does not make it a bad movie: a lesser Cronenberg is still better than most of the rest you could watch in the cinema that month. The best reference here is A History of Violence, which was also a Cronenberg movie that didn’t truly feel like a Cronenberg movie but where you could understand why the director had chosen that project. Is that a recommendation? Maybe not, but a couple of lines earlier the real recommendation was already mentioned: I looked at the films that were showing this week and not many were as intriguing as this one. Are we really only in it for the entertainment?