The work of one of my many favorite filmmakers, writer-director David Cronenberg, is no stranger to kink (or as I like how Merriam-Webster puts it- non-normative sexual behavior). Many of his films, even "body-horror" like The Fly (1986), have been written to have obscure sexual undertones to them. Dead Ringers (1988) and Crash (1996) are the most notable ones, but with his latest film A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg actually addresses the source from where much thought and theory on sexuality as well as behaviors came from- the real-life studies by Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).
I suppose at a glance, one might be surprised by this choice of subject for Cronenberg given how he has only made one previous film that could possibly be considered a costume drama (M. Butterfly). Yet if you look at his filmography, he was always been elusive and versatile and where two of his films might appear similar, they would only share his style before they diverged into completely different territories. I do feel this is more dialogue-heavy than most of his past work. Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liasons, Atonement) handled the screenplay which is based on his play "The Talking Cure" which in turn is based on the book "A Most Dangerous Method" by John Kerr. The film is certainly a much more intellectually stimulating experience than expected and serves as an interesting companion (for either comparison or contrast) to another recent sexually-driven drama starring Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen's Shame (2011).
Cronenberg assembles a great crew around him to put much care into the aesthetics that even I sometimes take for granted- cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, editor Ronald Sanders, composer Howard Shore, and most impressive is the art direction by James McAteer and Gernot Thondel as well as costumes by Cronenberg's sister Denise. The film looks absolutely stunning, but there is a certain dryness to it at times that is unbalanced by emotive moments. These prim-and-proper looking environments suddenly becoming the battleground for progressive sexual thought. Perhaps that is because the material is so dense that I am having a hard time admitting whether I like this film or not.
It handles a mature territory with an in depth point of view with highly analytical characters who themselves are analyzed. The problem is that the more I think about it, perhaps the film is just too complex for my liking. Not in a way that I misunderstand it, but perhaps after a certain point I want to see something unique happen and instead I'm just left with the intricacies of performance and image and not the bigger picture.
At least A Dangerous Method is both ferocious and passionate in how it handles sexuality both as a script in and its performances. The film explores compulsion with characters who are part of a certain bourgeois lifestyle so they hide their feelings from each other. Keira Knightley's Sabina Spielren goes against this. She makes her feelings very apparent whether it is through her hysterics or her calmer conversations with Sigmund or Carl. Knightley delivers a disturbing portrayal that is convincingly shocking. It contrasts nicely with Mortensen's Freud (this is Mortensen's third film with Cronenberg) as he balances how reserved and intense he can be; he is shown to be unpredictable and contained. Fassbender's Jung is somewhere in the middle, pulled in many directions in a performance that is up there with the recent caliber of Fassbender's work (Fish Tank, Jane Eyre, X-Men, Shame, Prometheus... the list seems to continue on and on).
The theories and lives of these people interact into a unique three-way relationship, but at a certain point I want more out of these characters and they seem to falter in my interest and care by the end of the well-intended final frame.