by Jon N. Hall 7/7/14
FrontPage Mazagine contributor Ben Shapiro needs to be taken to task for his article, Why Conservative Movies Outperform Liberal Ones. His main thesis seems correct, but he off-handedly dismisses an excellent film that FPM readers would enjoy. I’m here to champion that flick, for it didn’t do as well at the box office as it should have, which is testimony to the decline in taste and discernment in America. But then, why shouldn’t taste be on the decline in America; after all, everything else is.
The movie that Shapiro pans as “drivel” is A Dangerous Method (2011). The film is a serious and faithful dramatization of historical events and persons. It has the added charm of taking place between 1904 and 1914, during the Belle Époque, Europe’s last golden age before Europe’s leaders threw their civilization away.
Because FPM has been such a staunch defender of Israel, readers might be interested to know that two of the three main characters are historical Jews, Sabina Spielrein and Sigmund Freud. The screenplay is an adaptation by Christopher Hampton of his 2002 stage play The Talking Cure. And that play was based on the 1993 non-fiction A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr.
The film is R-rated and is certainly not family fare. But there’s nothing titillating in the film, nor is the violence very shocking by current standards. If there is anything in the flick that might lead one to categorize it as a “liberal movie,” it would probably be the scenes with Otto Gross. Gross was an anarchist and libertine, and seems to have been a very bad influence on the third main character, Carl Jung. Gross, although himself an analyst, was a patient of Jung’s. After repeatedly listening in therapy sessions to Gross expound on his philosophy of “free love” and on the problems wrought by sexual repression, Jung starts an affair with Miss Sabina Spielrein, his patient.
The relationship between Sabina and Jung forms the spine of the film. The film begins with Sabina’s admission into Jung’s clinic. Jung takes her through the “talking cure,” is there at her abreaction, and cures her. Jung encourages her to enter medical school and they learn that they share interests, including Wagner’s Ring cycle. It is Sabina, however, who suggests that they become lovers, which Jung at first resists. Jung begins to have misgivings about the affair and breaks it off, which leaves Sabina distraught. The film then veers into the growing differences between Freud and Jung and the eventual rift between the two pioneers of psychoanalysis. Sabina is involved in that, too:
FREUD: To tell you the truth, what finished him for me was all that business about you: the lies, the ruthless behavior. I was very shocked…on your behalf.
SABINA: I think he loved me.
FREUD: All the more reason to behave better, wouldn’t you say? I’m afraid your idea of a mystical union with a blond Siegfried was inevitably doomed. Put not your trust in Aryans. We’re Jews, my dear Miss Spielrein; and Jews we will always be.
The acting in Method is excellent all around. Vincent Cassell excels at being Gross. Keira Knightley is wonderful as the disturbed Sabina, and especially effective in the abreaction scene, where she describes herself as “vile.” I was surprised at how much I liked Viggo Mortensen’s Freud. But my favorite performance was Michael Fassbender’s Jung. I think Fassbender may well be the next Olivier.
The most powerful scene in the movie is the final scene, when Sabina visits Jung by the shore of Lake Zürich. Jung is deeply depressed and has been having a recurring “apocalyptic dream” that seems a pre-echo of the coming war.
JUNG: I don’t just want to open a door and show the patient his illness, squatting there like a toad. I want to find a way to help the patient reinvent himself, to send him off on a journey, at the end of which is waiting the person he was always intended to be.
This final scene by the lake captures Jung’s tragic sense of life. And he tells Sabina what she has meant to him. I won’t spoil it for you, it’s very simple, but it is surely what every woman would like to hear once in her life. The final shot of the movie is of Jung sitting in a wicker chair on his lawn. The camera slowly zooms in while the score hovers on an unresolved chord. (I think this is an exquisite way to end the film.)
The various elements of cinema wonderfully support and complement each other in Method, beginning with Hampton’s fine screenplay, and Howard Shore’s elegant score, which appropriates Wagner. There’s one all too brief sequence on Lake Zürich that may even qualify as “pure cinema.” Hampton described the scene at the bottom of page 48 in the screenplay, and suggested music from Lohengrin for it. Someone, I imagine Shore, decided on a piano transcription of the Siegfried Idyll. That transcription was perfect for this scene of perfect Edenic bliss. Director David Cronenberg was masterful in realizing this vision from so few words in the script. Method is a complete departure from Cronenberg’s earlier films; there’s none of the usual phantasmagoria. (I still have nightmares from the trifurcates in Dead Ringers.)
Here’re illuminating tidbits from a speech by screenwriter Hampton; the video also includes some key scenes from the movie. And here’s an audio of Mr. Shore’s fine score, positioned at the lake scene described above. Check out the Sony Classics webpage and trailer. You can buy the movie in Blu-ray here, and the soundtrack here.
How could anyone regard A Dangerous Method as a “liberal movie”? First of all, the film shows a genuine respect for the past. That’s not “liberal.” There is perhaps one statement in the film that some might take as “liberal,” and it’s the last bit of dialog: “Sometimes you have to do something unforgivable, just to be able to go on living.”
Now, I for one find that statement intriguing. But is it true? And what does it mean? If Mr. Shapiro found that assertion to be just so much “liberal” mumbo jumbo, he may be right. But the statement was made by a seriously depressed man, and depression has its own logic, a logic that the healthy can’t fully grasp. Perhaps the problem with this statement is its placement in the movie. Perhaps it could simply have been cut, for the dialog that immediately precedes it is quite powerful. Maybe that’s where the dialog could have ended. But I imagine this all occurred to Mr. Hampton and that he has his reasons. I’m content with his judgment.
Just as with methods, ideas can be dangerous, too.
Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City. • (1442 views)