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A master's touch for A Dangerous Method


PTI | Toronto, September 12, 2011 10:32
Tags : David Cronenberg | Toronto International Film Festival | Viggo Mortensen | A Dangerous Method | Carl Gustav Jung | Sigmund Freud | Sabina Spielrein | Keira Knightley | Christopher Hampton | The Talking Cure | Michael Fassbender |

When David Cronenberg has a new work ready, the Toronto International Film Festival is where it is unveiled to the world. The reason is obvious: Toronto is the controversial 68-year-old Canadian filmmaker’s home town.

And that, as Viggo Mortensen, the star of such Cronenberg films as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, vouches, represents one of the many attractions of working with a stalwart who combines in-your-face provocation with consummate mastery over the medium with a degree of harmony that few living filmmakers can.

Cronenberg’s latest film, A Dangerous Method, is a riveting exploration of the wedge that was driven between Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung and his mentor and the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, when the former began treating a sexually hysterical woman, Sabina Spielrein, at the turn of the 20th century.

Keira Knightley portrays Spielrein, a Jewish Russian who went on to become a successful child psychologist and was killed by the Nazis in 1941, with an unnervingly edgy energy that repeatedly bubbles forth out of the screen like milk on the boil.

“It was a very challenging role,” Knightley says. “I knew nothing about Speilrein. I had no frame of reference. That is what was exciting about it. I looked for logic within the material at my disposal.”  

Mortensen, who plays Freud on screen, says: “In the hands of a less knowledgeable and capable director, this film could have been very drab and dry. A Dangerous Method works because it doesn’t get bogged down in its academic purpose. It is highly gripping and entertaining.”

Scripted by Christopher Hampton around his own play, The Talking Cure, which, incidentally, in the author’s words, “had begun life as a movie screenplay”, A Dangerous Method has none of the shocking imagery or graphic sex that Cronenberg often works into his ‘body-horror’ films.

Cronenberg has a cult following around the world but many in his country – and, of course, elsewhere – revile him for the squirm-inducing power of his films. He survives on his own terms: his small arthouse films are crafted with the sort of exquisite skill and deliberation that instantly sets him apart from the crowd.

However, A Dangerous Method, which also stars Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, is a $20 million film and is scheduled to go into worldwide release in November. So, is this Cronenberg’s most ‘mainstream’ to date? It probably is, but only if judged against his own standards.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017