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NYFF 2011. David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”

Turns out, the focus this time around is on the performances by Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen.

"Repression runs rampant in A Dangerous Method, with sexual and romantic desires subsumed beneath societal and ethical constructs in a manner echoed by David Cronenberg's expertly composed direction," begins Nick Schager in Slant. "For his tale of the intellectual relationship — and, later, battle — between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his idol/mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Cronenberg employs a cool, refined period-décor formalism, his camera movements as deliberate as his characters' external appearances are polished and restrained, and yet his placement of figures within his frame — always slyly conveying their shifting dominator/subjugated dynamics — boast the same electric charge as his subjects' roiling thoughts and passions. Despite its turn-of-the-century setting and visual/tonal modesty, however, Cronenberg's focus remains, as always, on issues of mind/body invasion, corruption, and rebirth, which here revolves around Jung's increasingly knotty relationship with patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who, over the course of the next decade, eventually takes Jung into her bed before finding herself inadvertently in the middle of his war with Freud."

Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "Adapted by Christopher Hampton from his stage play The Talking Cure, which was based on John Kerr's book, A Most Dangerous Method, it is a talky movie that largely transcends its stage origins because the moral and ethical disagreements between the two are so clearly laid out. And Keira Knightley's portrayal of Sabina Spielrein, a kinky, initially demented patient who becomes Jung's mistress and, later, a psychoanalyst, gives the movie a searing emotional spark."

"Sabina is the true lead of the movie: its conscience, its brain, its heart, and its tempting body," writes Dan Callahan for Fandor. "Fassbender has the most difficult of the three roles because he has to play straight man in some scenes, then suggest Jung’s ambiguous feelings for Sabina and finally his undying love for her. He doesn’t always succeed…. Words, though, can barely express just how wonderful Mortensen is as Freud, except to say that this is a truly Brando-like performance in its serene amusement and its subtle habitation of a lofty, intractable man. Look especially at the moments when the cash-strapped Freud tries not to be bothered by Jung’s financial security. Most actors would be tempted to signal Freud’s unrest to get easy laughs, but Mortensen doesn’t show the indicated unrest at all. He just allows Freud to feel it behind a stony face and lets us provide the particulars of this joke."

"Fassbender and Mortensen embody all the entitlements of their influence, each doing smart work against the other's buttoned-down, tobacco-huffing academe," writes Movieline's ST VanAirsdale. "But they can only stand back as Knightley takes over, Jung's admitted 'catalyst' who sparks everything from revolutionary advancements on his 'talking cure' (which is basically just him sitting behind Spielrein as she juts, jolts and contorts the contents of her soul upon admittance to his university's hysteria clinic) to eye-popping, bodice-ripping, ass-whipping kink. 'It's a lot of acting — maybe not good acting — but it sure gets the point across,' my colleague Stephanie Zacharek wrote following Method's Venice Film Festival premiere. Indeed, it's insufferable in the early going, which also — not coincidentally, for the filmmaker whose canon is synonymous with the phrase 'body-horror' — happens to be Cronenberg's most visually adventurous span, experimenting with depth of field in rich, deep slate- and molasses-hued interiors."

"Cronenberg deftly layers A Dangerous Method with complex sociopolitical explanations explaining the difficult paternal relationship Freud has with Jung, and the ways Jung rebels against it," writes Tony Dayoub. "For example, when the two board an ocean liner on a lecture tour to America, class distinctions become apparent when Freud realizes Jung booked a private stateroom for himself while he must share a lower cabin with one of his assistants. Jung is ignorant that this incident might be the underlying reason Freud snidely refuses to share one of his dreams with him after Jung has done the same. 'If I share it with you,' Freud says, 'I might lose my authority.' There is also the matter of the growing climate of anti-semitism in early 20th-Century Europe, which manifests itself in different ways between the three lead characters. Freud is hyperconscious of the fact that he is Jewish, and that much of the criticism his theories have received is a disguised form of bigotry. The Aryan Jung is oblivious to that and the fact that Spielrein, and subsequent women he conducts affairs with, are Jewish women which, being patients of his, are in a position subservient to him. The rupture between Jung and Freud, and Jung's abrupt break-up with Spielrein, could easily be reframed as that of the aristocratic Jung retreating from very public relationships with two Jews in an era where German nationalism was beginning to take root."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir met Knightley in Toronto, where she "talked fluently about the history of psychoanalysis, Wagner's Ring Cycle, masturbation and the ethics of filming a spanking scene."

Earlier: Daniel Kasman from Venice and more reviews from Venice, Telluride and Toronto, making for a pretty large roundup.

Updates: "Les bon temps at the NYFF could not possibly roule forever, and on Tuesday they hit a brick wall named Keira Knightley. Not since Nicolas Cage and his adenoids damn near ruined Peggy Sue Got Married has the Siren witnessed a movie so heavily damaged by a lead performance."

Viewing (1'56"). Cronenberg tells the NYT's Mekado Murphy about implementing the source material.

"The restraint of each scene shows the discipline of a filmmaker who is absolutely at his peak," finds Miriam Bale at the L.

Updates, 10/6: "To horror-philes who care little for other genres, the period drama trappings of this new film may be off-putting," writes Peter Gutierrez at Twitch, "but I'll hazard that to most everyone else it stands a good chance of showing up looking a bit like a crowning achievement. Cronenberg himself reminded the press in attendance [at the conference on Tuesday] that he took clinical psychology as the topic for his very first film, the short Transference, and of course we've seen medical men, scientists, and researchers on the edge, or over it, in films such as Dead Ringers, Rabid, and The Fly, to name just a few. Often their ostensibly dispassionate approach to the carnal is belied by the very passion they have for their work, or simply their passion, period. In this sense they of course represent Cronenberg surrogates, since I'm hard pressed to name other auteurs whose films so brilliantly use cerebral methods and a detached tone to reveal the vast mysteries of our corporeal selves."

For Simon Abrams, writing at the House Next Door, "the film is unmistakably Cronenberg's finest since 2002's Spider."

Jaime N Christley for Fandor: "Cronenberg's screen spaces, like those of Fritz Lang or Andre de Toth, have always been unnervingly tactile, their strict intersection of lines too precise for comfort, a fussy perfection that seems to repress — and consequently take on the characteristics of — some unnamable malady. With A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg doesn't rely on a classical shooting style so much as he treats that style as a malleable object that he's able to annex for his own purposes, finding his way into, under, and around the uncanny marriage of bodies and the way they're shaped by environments, desires, and histories."

Update, 10/7: "Cronenberg's fixation is oral," writes Genevieve Yue at Reverse Shot: "the camera centers on Knightley's distorted mouth as she sputters a confession of forbidden desires, her jaw seeming to detach from the force of the words she spews. As Spielrein heaves and clutches her chair, and Jung sits attentively behind her, the camera's focus bends around her cheek, soft on one side and sharp on the other, as if this moment, and the taut bind between analyst and patient, is the 'hinge of the universe' that Jung describes in a later instance. This, indeed, is the crux of the film: the gulf between the unutterable impulses of the body and the words we invent, if not to tame them, then to better know their secrets."

Update, 10/8: The New Yorker's Richard Brody objects to the spanking scene: "Cronenberg doesn't show the whip and Knightley's backside; he skillfully arranges the shot to preserve the actress's dignity (and, for that matter, her flesh) while using the soundtrack and her facial and vocal reaction to provide the dramatic response. He gives either too much or too little — either not enough skin or too much acting. Without the skin, the acting seems fake; with the skin, hardly any acting would be needed."

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I confess I’m a little ambivalent about this one.
Jesus, when is this coming out?! I CAN"T WAIT ANY LONGER!

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