Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
United Kingdom/Germany/Canada/Switzerland, 2011. Recorded Picture Company, , Prospero Pictures, , Téléfilm Canada, , Deutscher Filmförderfonds, Filmförderungsanstalt, Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, , Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, , , Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, , Astral Media, Screenplay by Christopher Hampton, based on his play The Talking Cure and the book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr. Cinematography by Peter Suschitzky. Produced by Jeremy Thomas. Music by Howard Shore. Production Design by James McAteer. Costume Design by Denise Cronenberg. Film Editing by Ronald Sanders. Golden Globe Awards 2011. Toronto International Film Festival 2011. Venice Film Festival 2011.
The relationship between Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Jung (Michael Fassbender) in pre-World War I Europe hinges around the case of a hysterical female patient (Keira Knightley) in this emotionally reserved melodrama based on the play The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton. Knightley thrusts her jaw out to a disturbing length in frustrated anger as she recounts her abusive father to Jung, pointing out that the punishments he doled out gave her pleasure. When her affair with her analyst turns sexual (and somewhat kinky to boot), it puts a barrier in her development that eventually sees her turning to the Viennese founder of all modern psychoanalytic thought in jealous rage. Meanwhile, the two great minds enjoy a strong friendship that eventually falls apart when Jung decides that Freud is an egotist who does not want to find truth but only glory. Knightley’s performance in this muddle of a movie has been harshly criticized for its ripe theatrical quality, and while claims that she did intensely accurate research are likely true, the complaints are easy to understand: it’s one of those performances whose validity does not prevent its being annoying (I am reminded of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s turn as Dorothy Parker). Meanwhile, Mortensen and Fassbender enjoy some good chemistry as the battling geniuses, with Mortensen especially charming as the slightly jaded but mostly bemused doctor who never avoids the opportunity to turn a witty phrase. The downside of this film is how very unnecessarily staid it all is; it’s a pretty dour movie when Viggo Mortensen is the fun one. Cronenberg is so intent on making sure we admire a film about a girl who enjoys a Jungian spanking with her sexual activity that he keeps all collars starched and all passions at a minimum, while the screenplay (adapted by Hampton himself) fails to open up the possibilities inspired by the original play. What dialogue exists is excellent, but these people are constantly talking about things instead of doing them, and all the action is inferred before moving on to the next sequence, with all the important stuff seeming to happen in the scenes between the ones that are actually on display. It’s a confused affair that cannot decide if it is a romance about analysis or a study of analysis with a romantic angle, and its characters remain so very far on the other side of the emotional space that their resolution in the end provides no satisfaction.