Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method / A Dangerous Method. DE/CA © 2011 Lago Film / Talking Cure Productions / RPC [Recorded Picture Company] / Elbe Film. P: Jeremy Thomas. D: David Cronenberg. SC: Christopher Hampton - based on his play The Talking Cure (2002) and the non-fiction book A Most Dangerous Method (1993) by John Kerr. DP: Peter Suschitzky. Camera and electrical dept: large. PD: James McAteer. AD: Anja Fromm, Nina Hirschberg, Frances Soeder, Sebastian Soukup. Set dec: Gernot Thöndel. Art dept: large. Cost: Denise Cronenberg. Makeup and hair: Ulrich Ritter, dept: large. M: Howard Shore. M excerpts: Der Ring (Richard Wagner). Visual effects: Wojciech Zielinski, dept. including matte painting, digital matte art and animation: large. S: Michael O'Farrell, dept: large. ED: Ronald Sanders. Loc: Bodensee, Konstanz, Überlingen (Germany), Wien (Austria). Studio: MMC Studios (Westfalen, Germany). Casting: Deirdre Bowen. C: Keira Knightley (Sabina Spielrein), Viggo Mortensen (Sigmund Freud), Michael Fassbender (C.G. Jung), Vincent Cassel (Otto Gross), Sarah Gadon (Emma Jung). 99 min. Released in Finland by Scanbox with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Saliven Gustavson. 2K DCP viewed at a press screening at Maxim, Helsinki, 1 March 2012

Technical specs from IMDb: Camera: Arricam LT, Cooke S4 Lenses, Arricam ST, Cooke S4 Lenses, Arriflex 435, Cooke S4 Lenses - Laboratory: ARRI Film & TV, München, Germany, DeLuxe, Toronto, Canada (digital intermediate) - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak) - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format) - Printed film format: 35 mm (spherical), D-Cinema - Aspect ratio: 1.85:1.

Based on a true story that takes place in Zürich and Vienna (and during one scene in the New York harbour facing the Statue of Liberty) in 1904-1914.

I never visit press screenings, because I love regular screenings and find audience reactions essential, but today I made an exception in preparation of our seventh Cinema and Psyche symposium at Cinema Orion in two weeks. In those symposia the story of Sabina Spielrein has already been discussed by the psychoanalyst Christel Airas, who examined the two previous movies, Ich hiess Sabina Spielrein / My Name Was Sabina Spielrein (SE 2002, D: Elisabeth Márton, dramatized non-fiction, following the original documents closely), and Prendimi l'anima / The Soul Keeper (IT 2002, D: Robert Faenza, starring Emilia Fox and Iain Glen, with a memorable documentary section with the 84 year old Vladimir Schmidt who had visited Sabina Spielrein's kindergarten as a child).

David Cronenberg is at his most sober in this movie. There is nothing extravagant in his approach, and there is a connection with Roman Polanski's The Pianist, also a true story about a shocking experience. Restraint is the best way when the truth is as shattering as this.

There is also a feeling of physical truth in this movie. Although A Dangerous Method is a character-driven chamber play, the ambitious production design is relevant to the story. We have a feeling that the characters really inhabit their houses, surroundings and clothes. The main contrast is between C.G. Jung's cool and clinical Switzerland and Sigmund Freud's warm and comfortable Vienna.

The main drama is between Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) and C.G. Jung (Michael Fassbender). Important figures are also Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen in an excellent performance) and the long-suffering Emma Jung (Sarah Gadon).

Sabina Spielrein enters the story as an intelligent 19-year old woman suffering from hysteria. She is cured by C.G. Jung and becomes a doctor and a psychiatrist herself, a pioneer in child psychology and the originator of a major theme in psychoanalysis: the death drive, which Sigmund Freud adopted after WWI.

After the cure, when she is no longer a patient but a student of medicine, Sabina Spielrein remains close with C.G. Jung. The dimension of a physical relationship is hypothetical, but in this version, like in Prendimi l'anima, there is a sex relationship. In this movie the sex is rough and brutal, with spanking etc., stemming from Sabina Spielrein's masochistic needs. Was it really so, we'll never know.

My comment to the sex relationship is that since the overwhelmning 1960s sexual liberation in the Western world we have difficulty imagining how life was before. Men and women could experience rapture in close friendship without going to bed. Jung and Spielrein had a passionate and life-changing relationship and Emma Jung had cause to be alarmed as had Freud but I still don't find it necessary to assume a sex relationship between C.G. and Sabina. But perhaps there would be no movie without one.

A Dangerous Method is a talkative film. It is a film about the talking cure. These characters are pioneers in psychological research, and they also all suffer from neuroses, themselves, but they never cease to try to understand them. They talk, and they write, and there's little action, but the intelligence of the dialogue and the performances are enough to carry this film.

The story takes place during la belle époque before WWI. It was an age of repression for women. Today "la grande hystérie" has ceased to exist in the Western world as the result of a much greater equality in women's rights and of a generally much more sober sex education. Thanks also to the efforts of pioneers such as Freud, Jung, and Spielrein who made their own discipline partially unnecessary by curing the world from "la grande hystérie".

The Jewish theme is relevant in A Dangerous Method, for the second time in David Cronenberg's oeuvre. The first instance was in the section "At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World" in Chacun son cinéma. There Cronenberg himself portrays a film director contemplating suicide, disturbed by the death of the cinema and the Hizbollah's threat to terminate all Jews.

I like the mechanical marvels of A Dangerous Method. There is a joy of reconstruction of early medical instruments for C.G. Jung's psychological studies. The Richard Wagner phonogram concert at the hospital has been recreated with loving care. On the other hand, Sigmund Freud's study at Berggasse is crammed with replicas of totems and mythical figures.

The 2K DCP presentation was good and I had no complaints. The film takes largely place in interiors but I had no problems with the exteriors, either. The physical production is beautiful, paying justice to la Belle Époque. The movie has been shot on 35 mm, and the 2K digital intermediate has been well executed.

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