So here’s a question: How much can the performance of one single actor affect how you feel about a movie? Can one bad apple drag down an entire film?
After watching A Dangerous Method by David Cronenberg, I’m leaning towards: “yes, it can”.
The film is based on a true story and tells about the first stumbling steps of psychoanalysis as a method to deal with mental illness and about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, which grew increasingly worse over the years. The third main character is Sabina Spielrein, who comes to Jung as a patient, gets better by treatment, studies to become a psychiatrist herself, and for a while becomes a mistress of Jung.
This would have been a pretty average, thoroughly made costume drama – surely historically correct, but maybe a tad boring and superficial – if it wasn’t for Keira Knightley in the role Ms Spielrein.
Her interpretation of what a mental patient looks like is so ridiculously overplayed that it gets an air of comedy.
You’re not supposed to giggle at serious matters like this, breaking the immersion for everyone else in the salon, and I didn’t. I swear, I did not (as little as I text messaged or munched on crunchy popcorn.)
But I really had to make an effort to keep the laughter inside me as I watched her push out her lower jaw yet another few inches. It looked so completely hilarious and a question came up in my head: I wonder if there had been some sort of CGI or other manipulation done to give her that weird, drawn out appearance?
I have to admit that I don’t know what a lunatic, psychotic person looks like in reality. I’ve never seen someone in that state of mind. But I honestly doubt that Keira Knightley has either. Rather than being pulled into the movie, believing that the woman I saw in front of me was Sabina Spielrein, I thought to myself: “So this is how Keira thinks that a crazy person looks like”.
The worst “raging like a crazy woman” scenes take place in the beginning. As it develops, Sabina gets a bit better. But instead of the craziness we get kinky sex, which also left me a bit baffled. I suppose some people will get a kick out of seeing Michael Fassbender spanking Keira Knightley dressed up in a corset, but frankly it neither looks hot, nor convincing. There’s no build-up, there’s no depth to the characters, nothing that explains to me why they end up in this situation or what’s going on in their minds. It’s almost as if those scenes were put into the movie as a tickling piece of decoration.
So isn’t there anything good to say about this film? We’re talking about Cronenberg here, a respected director as far as I know of.
Well, as I said, the costumes and settings are fine. And I generally like the concept, the idea to make a movie about the lives of Freud and Jung. It feels fairly fresh and interesting, worth some further exploration. Especially Freud is the one I’d like to learn more about. We get hints about the difficulties he faced as he introduced the psychoanalysis, one of them the fact that he was a Jew in a time when hostility against Jews was growing.
More time for Freud would also have given Viggo Mortensen more time on screen, which would be a good thing. He’s as wonderful as Knightley is awful. But unfortunately that isn’t enough to save A Dangerous Method from my sincere ridicule.
A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011) My rating: 2,5/5