CIFF Diary: Day 4, pt. 3 - Cronenberg Adapts

10/10 - A Dangerous Method is David Cronenberg's new adaptation of Christopher Hampton's play "The Talking Cure," which was built out of John Kerr's book "A Most Dangerous Method."  Although the film feels like some of the better late Cronenberg entries, with similar achievements in the sparseness of the framing and tonal consistency, A Dangerous Method did not rank for me on the level of those pictures.  Granted, I think that Spider (2002), A History of Violence (2005), and Eastern Promises (2007) constitute a particularly accomplished post-millennial run for the Canadian film maker, and I think A Dangerous Method is an interesting addition to the Cronenberg filmography, if not quite as effective as those previous works.  I think what makes A Dangerous Method even more disappointing, especially for a longtime Cronenberg fan, is that the confluence of these historical figures and what we know his visual mind is capable of could have yielded something truly ecstatic, but instead, delivers good performances and mannered storytelling.

Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method
The buzz at the fest about seeing Michael Fassbender in this picture has been, literally, all around me.  I have really been enjoying the conversations I've been having standing in line for various screenings, and have gotten a number of great recommendations from some folks who really know their film.  But, I think I've heard the name of Fassbender uttered with loving intonation more than just about any other, yet on the occasions when I've tried to strike up a conversation about Method as a Cronenberg film, I'm met with a blank stare, behind which I can almost see the ridiculously handsome visions of Fassbender dancing.  And, hey, I get it.  I have been buzzing about his work on this very site, as he is obviously an actor whose skill stands out, even in mediocre Hollywood fair like the recent X-Men: First Class.

Lets look at Fassbender some more (sigh) - X-Men:  First Class
A Dangerous Method is one of Cronenberg's more actor-oriented pictures, (warning:  for those expecting slithering viscera and talking asshole insects, they don't show up here) and as such, it is only partly successful.  The film centers around the story of Sabrina Spielrein, the one time patient and student of Jung who eventually went on to influence the work of both Freud and Jung as an academic, and is played with abandon by Keira Knightly, who has the difficult challenge of playing the complex arc of Spielrein, from the abused and spastic patient she was upon arrival at Jung's facilities to the sexually and intellectually awakened rival of her mentors.  To Cronenberg's credit, he allows his actors to act in a fully embodied way through his framing, but as an audience member I never fully bought the histrionics of Knightly's performance, although I think she was committed to the attempt.

Keira Knightly in A Dangerous Method
Cronenberg is a director who can, in his finest moments, create this perfect balance between the grotesque and the sublime;  between narrative and philosophy.  He has taken some huge risks in his adaptations, particularly in his work with William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch and J.G. Ballard's Crash, which not only attempted to translate what is great about those works of fiction, but to elaborate and comment back on those works in a way that wholly takes into account the often overlooked differences between novel and film form.  With A Dangerous Method, I think he achieves a merely suitable adaptation, while imbuing it with his particularly adept eye for showing stark scenes of sexuality that teem with violence.  Still, the memory of Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello on the stairs in A History of Violence will linger in much more resonant ways than anything in Method.

Maria Bello and Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence
One last thing, and correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it Cronenberg who railed against the "winking" coyness of 1998's Shakespeare in Love?  Don't get me wrong--I have no affection for that picture (it probably ranks right up there with A Beautiful Mind as one of the worst films to win the Academy Award for Best Picture), but can't it be said that Cronenberg is giving the same kind of wink to the Psychology majors in the audience that Shakespeare in Love was giving to the Lit majors?  I mean, can't a cigar just be a cigar?!  

Up Next:  The "World Cinema" entry from Argentina, Santiago Mitre's The Student



1 comment:

jason said...

I JUST had the opportunity to see A Dangerous Method (finally came to Philly) and I agree with you totally. Yeah, it's fine, but that reaction itself is disappointing. This is the man who brought us Naked Lunch replete with talking a-holes and alien speaking inter-zone beings? Freud and Jung are just waiting to be adapted in utterly unpredictable and wonderfully grotesque ways. But, to be fair, maybe this is exactly why Cronenberg does not go there... because that would be easy. Maybe, maybe not. I just know I wanted more outlandishness.