movies: The mad­ness in Keira’s method....................

Keira Knight­ley goes the full Cro­nen­berg in A Dan­ger­ous Method, writes Christy Lemire

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY CONTENTS -

SPIT­TING and stam­mer­ing, claw­ing and con­vuls­ing, her jaw jut­ting for­ward and her eyes pop­ping out of her head, Keira Knight­ley is a fright­en­ing force of na­ture in A Dan­ger­ous Method. And this is only at the film’s start. It’s a brazenly over-the-top per­for­mance, a huge gam­ble in de­pict­ing her char­ac­ter’s ma­nia and self-loathing in such in­ten­tion­ally off-putting fash­ion.

But even­tu­ally it pays off as it makes sense in con­text, and es­pe­cially as this woman evolves.

For this is a David Cro­nen­berg film – although the pris­tine, cultured trap­pings might sug­gest oth­er­wise – and this time, Knight­ley is his mon­ster.

Cro­nen­berg has spe­cialised in a pe­cu­liar brand of hor­ror film over the decades, with phys­i­cal mu­ta­tions serv­ing as the norm in such 1980s movies as Video­drome and The Fly.

Here, the trans­for­ma­tion oc­curs within; it’s psy­cho­log­i­cal, in­vis­i­ble, but no less star­tling. Don’t let the gen­teel, cos­tume-drama niceties fool you.

Set in the early 20th cen­tury in Zurich and Vi­enna, A Dan­ger­ous Method fol­lows the re­la­tion­ship be­tween two of the lead­ing voices in the de­vel­op­ment of psy­cho­anal­y­sis: Carl Jung (Michael Fass­ben­der) and Sig­mund Freud (Viggo Mortensen, a Cro­nen­berg reg­u­lar of late). Knight­ley plays Sabina Spiel­rein, the wealthy Rus­sian who is as beau­ti­ful as she is tor­mented, and who ul­ti­mately comes be­tween these two men.

Sabina goes to Jung as his pa­tient, not only shak­ing up his dull, struc­tured life but also pro­vid­ing him a boun­ti­ful source of re­search for the new ‘‘talk­ing cure’’ he’s craft­ing. (The film, writ­ten by the es­teemed Christopher Hamp­ton and based on his play The Talk­ing Cure, is it­self based on the John Kerr book A Most Dan­ger­ous Method.)

She’s screwed-up be­cause of spank­ings her fa­ther gave her in early child­hood; pun­ish­ment that she didn’t just en­dure but ac­tu­ally be­gan to wel­come and find sex­u­ally stim­u­lat­ing.

The but­toned-down Jung is fas­ci­nated from a schol­arly stand­point but also se­cretly aroused as a man; Fass­ben­der, with his proper dress and car­riage, qui­etly con­veys Jung’s in­ner con­flict, his per­co­lat­ing de­sire.

But Jung also turns to his men­tor, Freud, for ad­vice. Freud, of course, thinks ev­ery symp­tom is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of a sub­con­scious sex­ual im­pulse, so Sabina’s case gives these two much to chew on. Mortensen ( A His­tory of Vi­o­lence, East­ern Prom­ises) di­als down his smoul­der­ing mas­culin­ity here for a per­for­mance that’s dryly hu­mor­ous, full of snarky van­ity and droll lit­tle digs.

Even­tu­ally an­other trou­bled mind turns this three-way into a four­some when Freud sends Otto Gross (Vin­cent Cas­sel), a pa­tient of his, to Jung for treat­ment. Otto is im­pos­si­ble to con­trol – and Cas­sel does play ca­sual men­ace beau­ti­fully – but he also in­spires Jung to fol­low his own im­pulses, even though they’re at odds with the com­fort­able life he shares with his docile, mon­eyed wife (Sarah Gadon) and their chil­dren.

Jung’s in­ter­ludes with Sabina pro­vide sud­den, stun­ning mo­ments of sado­masochis­tic in­ten­sity, which punc­tu­ate a pre­vail­ing tone that might ac­tu­ally be too re­strained. Their af­ter­noons at her sparse apart­ment are thrilling, though, and they help main­tain a wild streak in a film that is crisply and metic­u­lously shot and edited.

As Sabina’s be­hav­iour set­tles down – as she morphs from pa­tient and lover to stu­dent and ther­a­pist in her own right – the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Jung and Freud grows more bit­ter and volatile.

The pas­sive-ag­gres­sive se­ries of let­ters they ex­change pro­vides some much­needed hu­mour in this fre­quently se­ri­ous, in­tel­lec­tual ex­er­cise. But they’re on to some­thing, though. As any­one who has ever been in ther­apy can at­test, the dan­ger is in­side all of us, whether we’re will­ing to face it or not.

to­day.

opens

Michael Fass­ben­der, as Carl Jung, and Keira Knight­ley, as Sabina Spiel­rein, in a scene from David Cro­nen­berg’s

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