A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011)

Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method
Carl Jung: Michael Fassbender
Sigmund Freud: Viggo Mortensen
Sabina Spielrein: Keira Knightley
Otto Gross: Vincent Cassel
Emma Jung: Sarah Gadon

Director: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: Christopher Hampton
Adapted from a play by Christopher Hampton based on a book by John Kerr
Cinematography: Peter Suschitzky
Production design: James McAteer
Music: Howard Shore

Sometimes, as Freud said, a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes, as Viggo Mortensen, playing the man himself, demonstrates, a cigar is a prop that can help you win an acting contest. Because too often a costume drama based on a play becomes just that: a contest among actors to show who can come out on top, especially when the cast consists of actors like Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, and Vincent Cassel -- none of them exactly shy of showing what they can do before a camera. When I heard of it, I thought Mortensen was a decidedly off-beat choice to play the father of psychoanalysis, and he was in fact the second actor to be cast in the role, after Christoph Waltz, an almost inevitable choice, found he had a scheduling conflict. Mortensen had worked with director David Cronenberg twice before, but playing men of violent action in Eastern Promises (2007) and A History of Violence (2005), not a pre-World War I middle-European Jewish intellectual. And yet Mortensen gives a delicious performance as Freud: puckish, proud, intellectually combative. And the cigar helps, whether brandished elegantly or plugged defiantly in the middle of his face. By contrast, everyone else seems a little over the top. Fassbender (who was second choice after Christian Bale) is his usual handsome presence, but he frets a little too visibly and never quite establishes Jung as the challenger to Freud's authority that Freud seems to have thought him to be. Keira Knightley acts the electrons off the screen as Sabina, almost popping out an eye and dislocating her jaw in her mad scenes, but recovers nicely in her later moments in the film. And Vincent Cassel, as the mad Otto Gross, takes his role to the extreme as the man who carries Freud's theories about repression to their logical extreme: Don't repress anything. Ever. The film's battle of ideas gets a little bit lost in all the emoting, and as so often happens in filmed costume dramas, the scenery and the sets capture the eye when the words should be capturing the mind. But Howard Shore's evocation of the melancholy side of Wagner's music is perfect for the era in which the film is set, the transition from 19th-century Weltschmerz into 20th-century bloodshed, a time when, as Joyce punned, we were Jung and easily Freudened. Jung's prophetic dream of a bloody tide sweeping over Europe is cited in the film, as a warning that all of this intellectual (and sexual) ferment was about to be inundated by war.  

Watched on Starz Encore

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