The problem with David Cronenberg movies is that he’ll never top having an exploding head (as in the first five minutes of Scanners).
Actually, a strong argument can be made that his best films have been his more recent ones: A History of Violence and Eastern Promises perhaps even overshadowing his amazing remake of The Fly back in ‘86.
Also, Cronenberg seems to be like Soderbergh, in that I always feel like he’s doing what he wants. He probably doesn’t have the same kind of freedom that Soderbergh does but, really, would a movie about Jung and Freud and the woman who came between them get made if the director didn’t really have a passion for the story?
What’s more, does anyone get a better performance out of Viggo Mortensen? I think not. Viggo outdoes his 15 hours of dialogue with Liv Tyler in the Lord of the Rings movies in 15-minutes of any of his Cronenberg films. Even in this movie, where he’s actually playing the supporting character of Sigmund Freud, it’s hard to remember it’s Viggo.
The real star of this movie is Michael Fassbender, recently of Haywire and Shame, and the one who got to utter the immortal “we’ll fight in the shade” line in 300. He’s good enough to where I might go see Shame even though it looks pretty shameless to me.
He plays the sensitive and tortured Carl Jung, who manages to achieve a certain success using psychoanalysis with a charming but batpoop crazy Russian patient, played Keira Knightley.
Now, the affected kind of cuckoo Knightley has to play isn’t one of the easy kinds. It’s turn-of-the-20th-century-hysterical kind of crazy, with a lot of it seeming like childish acting out. But she’s helped (if not exactly cured) by Jung, which means the shape of her neuroses has to change but still echo her previous performance.
And she has an affair with Jung, which is tumultuous, and brings out another kind of intense crazy. Her teeth and jaw serve her well, here. And she does more acting than in all the pirate movies combined. (Not just her: Anyone. Well, except Bill Nighy. He does more acting brushing his teeth than most actors do in their careers.)
Though, as Vincent Cassell (as the aptly named coke/sex-addict Otto Gross) points out, all psychotherapists sleep with their patients. (I think the actual number is, like, 40% of mental health professionals have inappropriate contact, but it puts priests and even teachers to shame.)
Anyway, you got all these good elements, along with the lovely Sarah Gadon in a subtle role as Emma Jung, combined with some great two-shots and a typically wonderful Howard Shore score, bringing to life the story of how Jung falls out with Freud over the issue of the role of metaphysics in psychoanalysis and Freud’s insistence that all neuroses stem from sexual repression, into which Jung’s patient, Anna, finds herself in the middle, and you’ve got yourself a so-so movie.
Yeah, sorry about that, DC. I mean, if you’re into the whole history of psychoanalysis, then you could view this as a clash of titans, but really, it’s just a couple of guys flailing in the dark, with one (Freud) completely unaware of how his thinking is probably influenced by his abuse of cocaine.
They never actually mention or show it in the movie, but Freud was big on the cocaine for years. And sexual obsession is a pretty common side-effect with cocaine, or so I’m told. Seems important, given Freud’s complete recalcitrance with regard to the topic, but what do I know?
Also, it’s not like there’s a really clean dramatic story arc, either. Although Cronenberg does a good job with it, I think, there’s just an adherence to the actual facts which is somewhat ill-serving of a really tense drama.
I have a hard time recommending it as a result.
One of the things you know Cronenberg isn’t gonna shy away from is the bizarre sex—which actually was fairly tame by his standards. Anna is a masochist. Jung is swept up by her. Knightly goes topless. But overall, tame compared to the intense oral sex scenes in A History of Violence. It’s almost like the genteel feel of the story seeps into the seamier parts and makes them almost quaint.
Those are the pluses and minuses of it. Lotsa good parts around a not super compelling drama, some elements of which you may really dig and some which might put you off it completely.
The Boy was unmoved.