Idiot Savant Online

John Lichman's third attempt at a personal blog and online savanting idiotic.

Long Live The Old Flesh: A Dangerous Method

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Michael Fassbender feeling shame--an all too common issue this year.

The exact point when “body horror” became one of the defining critical tropes around David Cronenberg’s work is hard to place. Ok, it isn’t (Stereo, Crimes of the Future, Shivers etc) but it’s a welcome shift in A Dangerous Method that the horror is kept in a subdued tone compared to, say, if Carl Jung’s dreams were brought to life on screen.

Ok, maybe it isn’t that subdued. Paralleled by carriage rides, Method opens on a hysteric Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) being signed into  Burghölzli hospital where she picques the interest of Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) into trying out the fabled “talking cure” of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Jung struggles between his dislike of the military (“I just look at cocks all day!”) to analyzing his dreams as he takes Sabina under his wing as an assistant while coaxing out the nature of her “humiliation.”

At around this point, it becomes necessary to mention this: it’s sex. Cronenberg lays it out during the breakthrough between Jung and Spielrein when she admits she enjoys being punished and was turned on when, during a walk, he beat the dirt off her jacket.  From here it becomes the Freud show, as we shift into the psychosexual part of what would become psychiatry. What a fun world it is, jumping ahead and showcasing the budding relationship between Freud and Jung, along with the constant underpinning of their rivalry. Cronenberg presents Method as a mix of admiration from Jung to Freud and then yearning from Freud to Jung for someone to legitimize a legacy steeped in mockery and second guessing.  This emotional volleying works between Fassbender and Mortensen since Cronenberg cuts nearly every time a mouth opens to let out retorts and reprimands that come across as a higher brow “No, YOU shut the fuck up, Cockmongler!” But this comes from a interesting bait and switch in that Freud isn’t the main subject of this story–if anything, he’s more of a background figure that Jung searches for acceptance and ultimately gets as tired of the metaphorical cocks as he does the actual ones. Fassbender’s Jung thrives more with Knightley, who literally mugs her way into our hearts and speaks with an accent that sounds like it came from a bowl of Borscht.

The Muggening.

As a foil, Spielrein allows Cronenberg to tap into the kinky sex (whipping! spanking! coat dusting!) that became his trademark. Except this feels like a red herring when dealing with the cigar-and-sex obsessed Freud, especially when discussing how most of his patients fascinated with their anus are neat and orderly.  She exists here to provide Jung with a literal super-ego through his own concepts and her emerging thesis, while Vincent Cassel struts onto the scene to steal his entire arc as Otto Gross, as the Id that convinces Jung to live it up with his nubile S&M patient/assistant.

A friend called this the metatextual Cronenberg film, as it takes all the usual horror, sex and fear and stripped away the make-up and soundtrack, which barely exists in A Dangerous Method. Cronenberg is forcing us to watch the uncomfortable glances of Fassbender from avoiding his wife to overshadowing Freud.

If you choose to ignore that, then accept this second point: you will be making this face for days, if not weeks, to come.

all images lovingly skitch‘d from Apple.


One Response

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  1. Good review. The performances are good, even though Knightley may be over-acting quite a bit, and it looks great, but the film also just feels like a series of vignettes with no real feeling or drama to it. Basically what I’m trying to say was that I was bored and this story just never really got off the ground. Check out my review when you get the chance.


    November 25, 2011 at 3:04 am

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