Saturday, February 04, 2012

Movies: The Dangerous Method

"The Dangerous Method" is a movie about Carl Gustav Jung, and his complicated relationships with two people: Sigmund Freud, his colleague and mentor, and Sabina Spielrein, his patient and lover. It was not a bad movie, but I expected more of it.

While it touched upon Freud and Jung's friendship and rivalry, their diverging methods of psychoanalysis, and their eventual breakup, its primary focus was Jung's affair with Sabina. Not that it was a bad choice, given how vivid is the character of the crazy and brilliant, but mostly brilliant Sabina. Like most people in this story, she was a real, historical person, a young Russian Jewish woman who met Jung when she was mentally ill, was enormously helped by psychoanalysis, and later became an innovative psychiatrist herself. Keira Knightley's acting is a bit overdone in the "crazy Sabina" scenes, though it's amazing how such a beautiful actress contorts her face and body into such ugly poses. Overall I think she was great in this role.

Speaking of actors that were not so good in their roles: professor Aragorn! And not just because of his Lord of the Rings fame. Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud just didn't compute. Every time I saw him on screen, it pulled me out of the story. Even with the "authentic" makeup, hair, and beard, Viggo looks nothing like Freud, at least in the pictures I've seen. His acting wasn't convincing either. He played Freud with all the same cliches that denote a sophisticated man of a bygone era: slow, drawn-out sentences, half-closed eyelids, a pipe permanently stuck in his teeth. It's like I've seen this character on the screen hundreds of times, and I don't even watch that many movies.

For a movie about the birth of psychoanalysis, it oddly lacks intellectual content. Considering how Jung's ideas about archetypes and collective unconscious captivated the public (even if they later fell out of use; even so, writers and artists still derive inspiration from them), they get surprisingly little mention in the movie. There is a scene that suggests that Jung's notions of anima and animus were planted in his mind by Sabina: in one of their conversations she says there is something male in every woman, and something female in every man. And so the movie removes the last reason for a viewer to believe that Jung was famous for anything other than his polyamorous lifestyle, or wacky paranormal beliefs (he thought he was capable of premonition). He is a vivid, conflicted and sympathetic character, but it's not clear what he was notable for.

A movie about Jung that didn't concern itself with any of his intellectual contributions, but only with his romance with a patient, was like... why, it's like a fantasy novel that focused primarily on an exchange rate between Elvish gold and dollar.

Then again, I shouldn't criticize the movie too much. We are talking here about historical figures that achieved a mythical power in and of themselves, and their lives cannot be squeezed into two hours of screen time. To tell a story about them requires ruthless picking and choosing.

No comments: