A Look at A Dangerous Method Part 1

A Look at A Dangerous Method

This post is the first in a four-part series on A Dangerous Method which starts today with one filmgoer’s review. The next post will be about film review sites online, and the last two will be a selective look at aspects of the film, particularly the setting, the look of the film, and the female characters, using quotes from the director.

Last fall, A Dangerous Method opened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and I gave a first person account of that event in posts recently on this blog. The film has been in theatres worldwide since the end of November in most markets. It has only recently expanded from a very limited run in the US to over 350 theatres, and is now accessible to more Americans. As of the time of this post, www.boxofficemojo.com shows A Dangerous Method has made $4,291,872 in the US, for a total over $19 million. It’s doing well at the box office, and film reviews have been strong.

Cronenberg Films are in the News
This January, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis topped off a series of mentions in the media as “one of the most anticipated films of 2012″ with a stunning upset win in the MTV 2012 Movie Brawl. An unexpected win against some highly anticipated blockbuster films like The Hunger Games, The Dark Knight and The Hobbit.

The films it beat will do large box office, this poll wasn’t projecting any financial expectations or likely audience reception to 2012 films. What’s important about the outcome is that millions of people voted that they looked forward to seeing Cosmopolis the most of the sixteen listed. This has created positive publicity and greater awareness of the film. This is, simply, a good thing.

A Dangerous Method Now in Theatres
Now it’s time to shift gears to giving attention to the current Cronenberg film. A Dangerous Method presents a fascinating and true story of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Sabina Spielrein, three people who truly shaped the modern world with their pioneering work in psychoanalysis. These were three gifted, yet still deeply human and flawed individuals. This shows them at the start of their thinking and research.

While the film seems a break from past work, it is about one of David Cronenberg’s recurring themes— exploring the nature of the human condition, which includes, “the beast within.” Hence to me, and I’ve seen some critics voice this as well, it’s a natural choice for Mr. Cronenberg. He has commented that this particular topic has been a specific interest. He explained to Total Film magazine: “I have to remind people that the first film I ever made was called Transfer and it’s about a psychiatrist and his patient, a seven-minute film.”

This Series: A Look at A Dangerous Method
I saw the film twice. At TIFF, I was impressed, but there were a couple of things I was uncertain about, that somewhat “took me out of the movie.” I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate my feelings. I decided I needed to see it again. Indeed, on second viewing those aspects no longer concerned me. I think I was just more relaxed and was more able to absorb and enjoy. I was thinking too much when I viewed the first time.

So, trying to think what would be most helpful to readers, we thought we’d approach this in three posts:

• Post 1: One Filmgoer’s Review. Start with a review of the film, from a friend, who unlike me, went in “cold.” He had no preconceived notions about David Cronenberg, had seen some of his films, but had knowledge of Freud and Jung’s work. He knew I posted here and said, I loved this movie, it was really well done, and I want to review it!

• Post 2: Look at Three Film Review Sites Online. Direct readers who are interested to a way to quickly access professional film reviews online. We thought this would serve double-duty. Those who want a quick scan of how A Dangerous Method was reviewed, or to read full reviews, you’ll have quick links. In addition, it’s an opportunity to inform. Many of you likely are already in the know, but for others, it’s helpful to know of these online sites, and how they are the same and different.

• Posts 3 and 4: A Selective Look at the History, Female Characters, and Artistic Decisions. Present some snippets of interviews with David Cronenberg that provide insight on the film’s story and setting, and some of his artistic decisions. As we all have heard of Freud and Jung, but not necessarily the female characters’ important roles, I bring to you some comments from the director.

As always, our goal is to inform and highlight a fine film. I really love my friend’s linking the subject of the film to the essence of filmmaking itself. I’ve bolded this content.

One Filmgoers Review: A Dangerous Method

There are many movies that ought not to be for children, but that allow them anyway, with cartoonish violence and sexual escapades that are not, in fact, required by the plot or to make the characters believable. This movie, too, is not for children, but for a different reason – it is a sophisticated exploration of the origins of psychotherapy in early twentieth century Austria, and an equally sophisticated exploration of the tangled relationships among Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Sabina Spielrein, one of Jung’s earliest patients treated by the “talking cure”, and eventually his mistress.

Some reviewers have complained that the three main actors, Viggo Mortensen as Freud, Michael Fassbender as Jung, and Kiera Knightley as Sabina, engage in interminable discussion – which seems to me to be ironic, given the topic and events of the film. But in fact, the dialogue is smart, sophisticated, and yields insights into the thoughts and motivations of the characters in a way that their mere actions cannot, even when those actions are graphic enough to earn the film its R rating.

Instead, what we encounter in director David Cronenberg’s film is a subject that is central to film-making itself – what motivates us, what urges must we fulfill even when they lead to neuroses, how do we understand our own behavior and motivation? Psychotherapy was then a young profession, and Freud was determined to make it a science. Jung dabbled in theories of race memories and paranormal abilities, and as a result of these and his own personal failings, such as taking patients for mistresses, strained his relationship with Freud beyond the breaking point. Sabina emerged from the worst of her own neuroses to become a psychotherapist herself in her native Russia. Cronenberg deftly navigates the difficulties of portraying a story based on the lives of real people, however far removed from today, and his handling of this difficult material is both true enough to fact and spectacularly filmed to give viewers a sense of the desires and dreams of each character, and the particular challenges of pre-First World War Vienna.

There are relatively few practitioners of the “talking cure” today, and even fewer with an obsessive reduction of all neuroses to the repression of sexuality as children and adults. The practice of psychiatry has evolved along with much of medicine to encompass a much greater reliance on drugs and the physical manifestation of much mental illness. But psychotherapy occupies an important place in our cultural history, and in our understanding of how we think, and why we behave the way we do. A Dangerous Method provides a very human insight into the people who made it so.

Look for Post 2, Three Online Film Review sites, next.

Total Film.com
Box Office Mojo.com

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