Edward Cullen will always haunt Robert Pattinson’s screen persona. For David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis the same vampiric animism showing in his face when his character looks at the women around him. I couldn’t easily recognize Juliette Binoche here scares me that she’s put in a more compromising position compared to their other female co-stars, Samantha Morton and Sarah Gadon. Anyway, back to Pattinson, there’s this seductive naïvety from him, especially when he says the word ‘more.’ He stands out more than the crazy that Cronenberg and Don DeLillo can come up with. I can see this much within thirty-five seconds and that I’m already rooting for him as a Best Actor contender (although no, the Academy’s not that cool) also makes me want more. That I, a life long Team Jacob member, have changed colours. And that if this movie comes out in North America later than the May 15 date promised in this teaser, I will hate francophiles more than I already do.
The title and trailer of David Cronenberg‘s A Dangerous Method made me assume that Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) endures histrionic mental states and transforms into a seductress going after her psychiatrist-turned-lover Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), making him unfaithful against his wife Emma (Sarah Gadon) and destroying his friendship with his colleague Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Fortunately it’s a more intelligent movie than that.
Knightley’s performance was always going to be imperfect, burdened in early scenes with a younger Sabina’s schizophrenia. Name me an actress who can go from laughing to crying to yelling within seconds while making us get used to a Russian accent, I’m sure you can. There’s bravery in her physical portraying Sabina, protruding her chin and bending her body, as if taunting her detractors who make fun of her face, posture and weight even when she’s looked her best. She’s an animal in the movie’s first scenes. But what’s fascinating is her great work after her spells, transforming herself as the dependent lover and intelligent student. And even if she shows Sabina’s insecurities and paranoia about relapses, when she’s in a room with intimidating men like Fassbender and Mortensen and forming and verbalizing theory, she commands these men’s respect as an intellectual equal and has enough stature in her frail body to get it.
Mortensen has great supporting work as Sigmund, showing the character as confident about his theories and flippant about the anti-Semitism that both he and, he assumes, Sabina faces. Vincent Cassel appears as himself under the name of psychoanalyst Otto Gross. But keeping Sabina in mind, and knowing that this sounds reductive, all she has to do is climb down towards relative convalescence. Carl, thus, is the most difficult character to play, Fassbender embodying the struggle between repression and sublimation that Jung struggles with within the decade-long time period. He also gives us the theoretical and emotional heart of the movie even if he makes us work for it a little.
I also sense the characters’ ambivalence towards sensing a bigger – that is the war – conflict that will arise out of smaller ones like the ones Jung serve in and his growing rift with Freud. The movie’s goodbye doesn’t have the same feeling of dread, but separating these three different persons – they haven’t been happy together anyway – signals how they are never going to be complete without each other. And that Sabina has made peace with that but Carl, who has perceived her, among many things, as his theoretical muse, hasn’t.
- ‘Dangerous Method’ probes men of psychoanalysis (mysanantonio.com)
I know this Slavic girl in college whom I like making fun of behind her back. I don’t know if it’s more insulting that everyone thought she was stupid or that I didn’t see her as stupid but instead, a person with a tragically clinical view of academia. We had a conversation on the bus once about David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, a movie that just came out at the TIFF 2007 and the first movie from that crop to be released in theatres. She said the rapes made her uncomfortable, for reasons more basic than what I can deduce from other things I know about her. Once in a while she reveals a point of vulnerability and closes back up again, in a way telling me either that I’ll never find out her secret or that she doesn’t have a wound in the first place.
Roger Ebert and Carina Chocano separately compared this movie to The Godfather, and they’re right in that both movies are about the second generation of gangsters and not the first, a typical focus point in post-classical gangster films. It’s been said about The Godfather that it’s about the sons or the daughters paying for their father’s sins, despite of how much the parents try to shield them, or how much the children try to legitimize themselves, and no matter how much the latter presents themselves as products of nurture, or society, instead of nature, of family. In Eastern Promises, however, the children ‘stray from the path I’ve set out for [them],’ as the patriarch Semyon says in dismay. The half-English Anna Ivanova (Naomi Watts) will not adopt her Uncle Stefan’s negrophobic, anti-miscegenation viewpoints. Semyon’s son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel) is a hotheaded SPOILER, closeted homosexual, doing away with those who whisper that truth. Kirill’s driver/undertaker Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is a clawing his way to the top of the Russian mafia. The movie never lets us conclusively know how their different rebellions will help or hinder their characters, especially with Nikolai and his double life.
Speaking of double lives, the homoeroticism in the film, as shown specifically through Nikolai makes me think that Kirill couldn’t help it. Cronenberg depicts the gangster lifestyle itself as homoerotic. Kirill orders Nikolai to have sex with one of the prostitutes to prove his heterosexuality. The elders examine Nikolai and his symbolic tattoos, standing in front of them wearing only his underwear. The bathhouse death match. Kirill and Nikolai’s faces so close to each other, reminiscent of Viggo’s closeness to William Hurt in Cronenberg’s earlier work A History of Violence. I wonder if Nikolai is bisexual, or using himself to get to Kirill’s confidence, or if it’s compassion bursting through the hard surface he has to keep up for his job. It’s a fragmented interpretation of the character that doesn’t answer all the questions, and that actually makes him a more memorable character.
Yes, the movie had rapes and babies and a death match at the bathhouse, but there’s something anticlimactic about the movie, especially in the film’s denouement. And most of this is gonna sound like I’m shitting on Kirill/Vincent Cassel here. As a character who’s behind Semyon’s shadow, he’d be resentful and would hesitate in acting out his father’s orders. What does it say about me if I’m unconvinced that Kirill wouldn’t readily do to the baby Christine what Semyon has told him to do, or that I expected Christine to have a harder time than she did? Or that the sexual tension between Nikolai and Anna should have been left alone where it was before the last scenes? Or that I expected absolute evil from Nikolai?