I want to start by writing that this is not exactly a film review of David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method but, rather, a collection of thoughts stemming from my viewings of the movie, my knowledge of the story it recounts – albeit from Freud’s perspective –, and my amateur interest in cinema. My thoughts are a little unconnected, piling up on my brain every time I hear the advert for the film, or watch the Film 4 programme on the its making, which seems to be aired every time I turn on the T.V. set.
Hysteria: Keira Knightly portrayed Sabina Spielrein better than I expected, but was what I saw on screen hysteria, or just a stroppy woman? The major symptoms of the film seemed to be difficulty articulating complex ideas, playing with food, difficulty sleeping, and not wanting to be handled by hospital staff. She was just being difficult, with a reason. The only truthful – and dare I say beautiful – symptom was her forced jaw, jutting forward and taking a life of its own. That’s what most hysteria is: being taken over by the body. And then there is the issue of the spanking. Apart from the fact that the film sides with me in my theory that hysteria and perversion are not that far in their manifestation and performative aspects, it does so without any explanation of one of the other, with a link that seems so natural when, structurally speaking they are in fact opposite. Tut, tut, tut.
Jung: Well, I was never going to like Jung, wasn’t I? Not even when played by Michael Fassbender. I admit his voice made me a little softer towards him, as I find his intonation warm, quivering, lovely. But the episode of the wood cracking and his premonitions – especially the last one about WWI – represent everything I dislike about his approach. Neil and I had a discussion about it. I understand Jung’s problem with the sexual aetiology of most psychological issues but the only alternative, the one Jung represents, is mysticism. Besides, the scene between Sabina and Jung, after the later visited Freud, explain is well. She says; ‘Of course, he would have been right in my case’. Jung responds that Freud would have been right in most cases, maybe even the majority. That is my experience too. Sexuality makes us more than religion and mysticism.
Freud’s voice: Viggo Mortensen’s beautiful cadence as Freud made the film for me. I found myself drifting in my second viewing, loving his ups and downs partly derived from his eternal cigar. I found most of the words in the film amusing, like I often find psychoanalytic speech, almost cult-like, obscure. I wonder how the rest of the audience managed. As Dany Nobus and Malcolm Quinn pointed out in their excellent book Knowing Nothing, Staying Stupid, the published field of psychoanalysis – in particular Lacanian, but also Freudian – is full of dictionaries that help the interested scholar to understand what is being said. Do have a look at the above link, if you want to know how to say ‘I am ill’, or ‘I want to go to the cinema’.
Dreams: Dream are terribly interesting to anyone studying psychoanalysis, of course they are. And the proper way to discuss them in therapy and the social setting is by recounting them, by sharing and analysing. But this is cinema! Did Cronenberg watch Buñuel, Hitchcock or Powell and Pressburger? The dreams Freud, Spielrein and Jung had were – or in the case of Freud, probably were, as he doesn’t say – rich with connections. Yet, the film made them boring. I feel a trick was missed by keeping the narrative linear, by not going into the thoughts of the characters and accessing only their words. Yes, I know the talking cure, as psychoanalysis is named, is about that, but a film is not therapy, nor it can pretend to be. I am not demanding to be entertained, either, but I think the medium could have given the story something medium-specific, rather than just an accurate (and rather boring) recording. More on this below.
Historical accuracy: The film is historically accurate and, quite understandably, cannot portray absolutely everything that went on between Jung and Freud between 1904 and 1913, the year of their break. Yet, I cannot help but think they have missed some important points – such as Freud’s hallucinations – and left some others just hanging, unexplained – Freud’s fainting at the editorial meeting, and his apprehension every time he boarded any mode of transport. In a way, I would say the film is too historically accurate, to the point of giving us a worded account of the fate of each character at the end of the film (I am sure this has a proper name in cinematography, but you know what I mean). Where is the Cronenberg of Crash, Dead Ringers and Scanners? And, more importantly, where is this dangerous method?
If you have read thus far, you will realise that – paraphrasing Nobus and Quinn, and following on in the tradition of speaking psychoanalese – my scopic drive did not find the objet petit a it was seeking in Cronenberg’s film.