"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Review: A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method is a movie about 3 people - Freud, Jung, and Sabina Spielrein - who were all obsessed in some way or another with human sexuality. Specifically, the movie is about what happens when Jung and Spielrein become lovers after he cures her of sex-related hysteria. I believe it's safe to say this movie is about sex. Except that it lacks any hint of sexual energy at all - there is, in the tired phrase, just no chemistry between these three ghostly-looking people.

There were some things I appreciated about the movie, not the least of which was that it offered the opportunity to go out to the cinema. The costumes were lovely, especially the detailing on the selection of white blouses Keira Knightley wore throughout the entire film. I wanted a lot more of the conversations between Freud and Jung, where they hinted at the fascinating-to-a-college-student divergence between their theories. There were also quite a few moments when my friend and I laughed, although I'm not sure the jokes were entirely intentional. The audience of retired suburb dwellers didn't seem to think anything was all that funny.

But throughout the entire film, I constantly felt there was something missing. Somehow I couldn't sink into it at all because with every scene, I was plunged into the middle of something just in time for the crucial lines of dialogue and then ripped out again almost as soon as the actors had finished speaking. Only one scene contained any extraneous padding to it - before cutting to show Jung and Freud sitting in a café, the camera lingered for a few seconds over the waitress preparing a tray of tea - and it was so unusual, that I actually thought for a moment that the tea tray was a key plot point.

I've never more fully appreciated the value of atmospheric padding in a film. Vienna in this movie literally consisted of one street, one park, and one front door. But maybe (you might say) this was just a budget problem. You can't blame David Cronenberg if he doesn't have enough money for an aerial shot of Vienna. Well (I would respond), then I'd ask him to spend a little more time any other, less expensive set. None of the locations - the hospital, the apartments - got any kind of screen time in the absence of an actor saying very important dialogue. In other words, there was never a moment in the film where the audience was forced to wait, to observe, to reflect, etc.

To get back to my original point, this filmmaking fault is especially egregious in a movie about sex, because if anything creates sexual tension (not to mention emotional tension) in a movie, it's waiting. It's the time it takes for two characters to admit their mutual attraction, let alone act on it, it's the moments when the camera caresses the actors faces and bodies and lets us feel what their admirer is feeling. It's the weight of the forces holding the two people apart. But between Jung and Spielrein, there is only Jung's vague moral reticence, which he washes away easily enough when someone show up and tells him to give in to all his impulses. Every stage of the relationship proceeds as though by rote - they meet, they kiss, he goes home and mulls over his morals, they have sex, his wife subtly challenges him about his infidelity, he feels bad and wants to stop, the lovers are separated, the lovers get back together, the lovers are separated again, the lovers reunite as friends years later, end of movie.

It's just all too bad (hence the very long, slightly rambling post), because this could have been a very decent film if Cronenberg had been willing to let it breathe a little. Some of the buzz around it has called it crowd-pleasing, but I don't believe the crowds will be pleased because what people really want is a movie that plays a little hard to get, that hooks them before it gives them sex or moral quandaries or dramatic dialogue. Or at least that's what I want.

And now my tea's gone cold because I got so distracted ranting about filmmaking. Oh well! Time for a tea break, then.

No comments:

Post a Comment