A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011)

Last evening, we ventured out into the world of real, first-run movie theaters in order to catch a few end-of-year things. First up was Corman’s World, a really delightful documentary on Roger Corman and his near-50 years of being an awesome guy. It’s mostly an opportunity for people like Jack Nicholson and Peter Bogdanovich to shoot the shit with stories about how ridiculous (and wonderful) working for Roger was. If you can catch it, definitely do; there’s probably going to be an amazing DVD release, if the list of people interviewed who didn’t end up in the film is to be believed.

 

And then, there’s A Dangerous Method. I had such high hopes: David Cronenberg! Michael Fassbender as Jung! Spanking! Unfortunately, I haven’t been as disappointed in a movie in a long time. It was…dull. The last thing I ever thought I’d call a Cronenberg movie was dull, but there you have it. Both of us here at BCMH were looking for something, any hook to get a good, interesting grip on the movie. There is nothing.

First off, the film’s chronology is not only vaguely confusing, but seems arbitrary: the movie begins with hysterical (but brilliant) Sabina Spielrein arriving at Jung’s Switzerland clinic. Jung decides to try out his fancy new “talking cure” on Sabina. It’s going really well! Sabina realizes she loves getting humiliated because her dad beat her as a child! And then…it’s two years later, and Sabina is in medical school and in love with Jung. The first few minutes is all we get to see of the talking cure, another one of my major faults with the movie. For as much clinical talk as there is in the film (and there is a lot), there’s no real explication of what Jungian analysis is. If a viewer comes into the movie not knowing much about Jung, they will certainly not come out knowing much more. Is Jung psychic? What is he talking about?

Then, there’s Kiera Knightley. I put her squarely in the category of “pretty actresses people think are really good for some unknown reason” (looking at you, Scarlett Johansson). Knightley is, frankly, pretty silly as Sabina. She lets her jaw do most of the acting; in the early scenes, when Sabina is freaking out, Knightley sputters and sticks out her jaw, and flails her limbs around, Thom Yorke-style. It’s almost embarassing to watch.

I wish I had caps of the scene in question, but you’ll have to look at these pictures I found on the internet and believe me. She is awful. Bless his little heart, Michael Fassbender tries to make this one interesting, and at times, he almost succeeds. He’s a great actor, and we can see it here, but in the end, it barely even matters.

Ultimately the problem is we don’t know why any of this matters: as far as the film goes, the split between Freud and Jung basically reaffirms that psychiatrists are the monks of a secular culture. Do they dare transgress the laws of the brotherhood? If you’re going to go that way, then you should go whole hog, because the most interesting thing is the results of this schism, none of which is mentioned in the film. It’s the sort of “Watch someone’s life from before they were interesting” you get when you read a biography that spends four chapters on someone’s childhood. The increasing slickness, the commercial lines of Cronenberg aren’t ironic any more. There’s nothing transgressive here, and that’s fine, but it’s not like there’s historical interest in Jung And Freud Go To America, Apparently, On A Stupid Boat. That’s my take, anyway. There’s just so little here that it’s hard to grab onto anything, which seems antithetical to the idea Cronenberg is trying to get across in the film (the catalyst of transgressing a boundary in ritual). I don’t even care if it’s historically accurate, if you’re gonna go that route you need to deliver on some other flavor, and there’s nothing there, really. Depressing! I could so totally go for a long boring film about Jung and even I didn’t like it! Two thumbs down on this one, for sure.

L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)

There is a (ever-dwindling) list of movies even I am shocked that I haven’t seen, as someone who is (relatively) serious about film. Until the other day, L’avventura was on it. I love, loooooove Antonioni’s work, particularly his work with the amazing Monica Vitti, but this had somehow slipped by me. Never again! I’m starting to learn that some things are standards because they are, indeed, awesome.

The film, shot seemingly entirely from behind Monica Vitti, is pretty clearly delineated into two halves. In the first half, Anna (Lea Massari) and her BFF Claudia (Vitti) go on a boat trip with Anna’s boyfriend Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), and some of his questionable rich friends. Anna spends most of the time in the midst of an existential panic, and, after fighting with Sandro, disappears off the face of a tiny island. Claudia and Sandro spend all their time looking for Anna; for a few days, at least. In the second half, which takes place only a few days after the incident, they seem to have forgotten Anna altogether, and are embarking on an affair of their own. Claudia is torn between passion and guilt, between lust and reason, between right and wrong. Anna is barely mentioned in the second half of the film, and the mystery goes completely unsolved.

There’s an eerie 3 Women¬†quality to the film (I know this predates the Altman considerably, but go with me here). In some of the final moments before she goes missing, Anna gives Claudia one of her blouses that she no longer wants; when Anna’s father shows up at the island after her disappearance, Claudia is wearing the shirt, which clearly freaks him out. Claudia’s relationship with Sandro seems to go into borderline-obsessive territory. Although we never saw what either woman was like before the events of the film started, they both took a half-obsessive, half-disdainful stance to being Sandro’s lover. For his part, he’s basically a scumbag. At first he’s concerned with Anna’s disappearance, then he’s not (Claudia seems to be the only one who remembers her, and even then, only vaguely), and while at first he begs Claudia for her love, once she gives it to him, he becomes markedly less interested. It’s as if Sandro is the bridge between these two women.

A few visual techniques really stood out for me in the film. As I mentioned above, it seems that during most of the film (particularly the first half), the camera is pointed at the characters’ backs. I love this! It’s really amazing; the audience gets to join Claudia and Sandro in their search for Anna, we get to see the hopelessness of actually finding the woman, and the vast stretches of nature that expand out in front of the characters. One of my favorite Antonioni visual tropes is the “small humans vs. vast nature” thing, and he’s really doing some remarkable stuff with that here. Plus, we don’t get to see Claudia’s face as she looks for Anna, so we have no idea what she’s really thinking. Antonioni forces us to extrapolate onto her. So good!

Another reoccuring visual motif is that of half-indoor, half-outdoor space. We see it in the film time and time again, where someone (usually Claudia) is inside, staring out the window, and we can see that expanse of nature in front of the character, within reach, but the other half of the frame reminds us that we’re still indoors. Trapped, if you will. Antonioni’s visualization of the struggle between heart and head usually has Claudia trapped inside, looking out. Until the last shot of the film.

After he has betrayed her, Claudia seemingly makes the choice to embrace Sandro anyway (and, in the process, Anna’s ghost?). They stand outside, still staring into the distance, still looking for Anna (maybe), but this time, a building half-obscures the view. Even when Claudia chooses love, the clarity she’s hoping for is denied her. That damn building is still in the way.

My favorite Antonioni, and one of my favorite films of all time, is Red Desert, and I was pleasantly shocked to see just how many similarities the two films have. It’s as if Red Desert‘s Guilana is Claudia, aged a few years and thoroughly disappointed by her life with Sandro. I’ll be doing a frame comparison of the two films within the next few days (get excited); for now, have a sexy Monica Vitti face for your patience.