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****ALERT: Some spoilers****
By Rachel Galvin
Director David Cronenberg stays true to his style in "A Dangerous Method." Although the film is focused around philosophies and pontification, his exploration of the transformation of human form in all of its grotesqueness is embodied by Keira Knightley's (Sabina Spielrein) pained and angular contortions. Seen in the first scene as a raving lunatic repressed in a carriage that is carrying her off to the "nuthouse," she shows her lunacy through dramatic awkward body movements. Grabbing at her back like Quasimoto or forcing an under-bite like an exaggerated Sling Blade, Knightley's character's body seems to be fighting with her mind (and looks a bit like Golem). Indeed, it is uncovered that her insanity stems from an encounter with her father that seemingly continued since the age of four. It involved nakedness ... and spanking. The big revelation is that she liked it. (Aside: I will repress my urge to belt out Katy Perry's "I kissed a girl and I liked it, although this begs for a theme song).
It is inevitable that the line between patient and psychologist will break and Knightley and her analyst, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) will delve into a wee bit of the S&M. Now, certainly this sounds intreguing, but somehow it isn't really. As much as Knightley strives for her Natalie Portman moment with this film, and possibly could be nominated for an Oscar, something in her character was lacking. But, it was not necessarily her portrayal of that character, but perhaps something else -- writing, directing? The character lacked depth. It was one-note and a hard nut to crack. Some commented they just didn't buy it. Plus, they made her look just so unappealing (that type of courage is to be applauded in a Hollywood actress, for sure!). Much like Portman in "Black Swan," it looks like Knightley has laid off nutrition for awhile. Perhaps, she also was attempting to model after the equally gaunt Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Secretary," which is a much more scintillating movie, by the way, for those who are into that sort of thing.
But I digress. The jump from Spielrein's insanity to her being a doctor herself seems implausible yet rings true (and it is based on a true story). She hopes to give her patients freedom, much like her doctor freed her. But really in this picture, it is hard to tell who is the doctor and who is the patient as each seems to fit both roles throughout the film, switching from confident and analytical to crazed, confused and vulnerable.
Certainly, Fassbender and his contemporary and "Father Figure" Freud (played by Viggo Mortensen) do an excellent job acting, but again Freud could use more depth. Jung becomes the central character and definitely shows the complexities of his life, at times, he seems to push it slightly, but overall great performance. The comic relief comes from another patient, Otto, played by Vincent Cassel, who takes his pick of the world and takes on life no holds barred. An open book, he helps lead Dr. Jung into his life of debauchery and steers him down the crooked path into a mix of seduction (by Spielrein) and betrayal of his wealthy wife (Sarah Gadon) by him. Eternally pregnant, his wife clings to family and quietly tries to please her wayward husband. Perhaps having a male heir finally will do the trick?
This film is foreplay for the intellectual. Those who relish a back and forth between two philosophical heavyweights like Freud and Jung will drool. This duo duels with their words and correspondences. They passive agressively throw barbs amidst dream interpretations, all the while smoking a pipe or cigar. Is a cigar really a cigar? Hmmm... "A Dangerous Method's" biggest theme is conflict, the clashing of opposing forces, ideas or personalities and, in that clash, comes something new, a new theory on humanity perhaps, which is spelled out in Spielrein's interpretation of the music of Wagner. It also explores the concept of unleashing emotions and feelings in order to really enjoy life in all of its hedonism. As Jung says, "Sometimes you have to do something unforgiveable to go on living..."
Watching this picture was exhausting. Feeling talked to death after awhile, found myself restless, yawning, waiting for it to end, but scenes continued -- "two years later..." then "two years later..." Its dragging at a snail's pace was something agreed upon by many; yet, those philosophers who were up for the banter enjoyed the intellectual challenge of the film. For those who enjoy a more loquacious and mental motion picture, they are certain to enjoy. Plus, the landscapes, set design and the costumes are wonderful.
This film was shown pre-wide release at Cinema Paradiso on Oct. 28 as part of the Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival. For complete schedule of films, visit www.fliff.com. The film fest continues until Nov. 11.