Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” at the Downer
David Cronenberg is one of ten or so contemporary directors whose work I will see at the first opportunity. He always has a dark and one might say twisted sense of the power and expressiveness of sexuality. The two sex scenes between Maria Bello and Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence are a good example of his range and understanding of how sex can describe exactly what is happening in a relationship. “Everything is said in the bed,” as the great jazz drummer Tony Williams said.
So Cronenberg is an ideal choice to examine the notions of Sigmund Freud, whose work as a psychoanalyst was some of the first to draw a direct connection between human behavior and sexuality. In A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg is working from a play by Christopher Hampton called The Talking Cure. Hampton, who also wrote the screenplay, is not unfamiliar with sex as the language of social intercourse having written the play Dangerous Liaisons, which has been made into several films.
Complicated ideas about the most complex of organisms, the human psyche, bounce around the screen like ping pong balls. It is sometimes difficult to follow the discussion until you realize the dynamic of their conversation is not that different from any conversation about women and relationships and honor that you might have over a beer at the corner bar. On one level, the story charts the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung from their first meeting to Freud ending the friendship after determining that Jung was not to be trusted. The connective tissue between these two men, in addition to their intellectual love of each other, is a woman, as would be the case any Hollywood romantic comedy. The woman in this case is Sabina Spielrein, a patient of Jung’s. Ms. Spielrein was also Jung’s mistress, and a correspondent as well as a colleague, in her later years, of Freud, nearly completing a classic ménage à Trois and offering plenty of material for a good popcorn movie.
The most interesting and bold performance is Keira Knightley as Ms. Spielrein. The madness and rage that brings her to Jung in the beginning of the film is difficult to watch. Her jaw juts out as though it were being ripped from her skull, her painfully thin arms flail manically to protect her back from remembered punishment. The most wonderful thing about her performance is the transformation from a woman filled with uncontrollable rage to student and finally to mother and professional analyst without losing her intelligence, the love she had for Jung and the gratitude she feels to him for healing her with the “talking cure.”
A Dangerous Method opens Friday, January 27, at the Landmark Downer Theatre at 2589 North Downer Avenue.