Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I think David Cronenberg is on of those rare filmmakers--or really artist of any kind--who keeps getting more and more interesting the older he gets. He and Werner Herzog are really the only two who spring to mind (I'm sure you have your own favorites).

Here he takes on a biopic about the complicate, sometimes-friendly, sometimes-contentious relationship between the giants of psychoanalysis--Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen, who has become a Cronenberg regular after remarkable turns in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender, who seems to be in every movie right now, and to my tastes has yet to disappoint).

I will start by confessing to little more than a poorly remembered high school education on Freud and Jung, so I'm sure there are finer points to their lives and works that are exploited in the movie but I didn't appreciate. But rest assured, it's very easy to appreciate the movie without them. As the movie opens, a hysteric woman named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley, surprising in a role that requires more than just being pretty) is delivered to Jung's clinic. There he tries Freud's new "talking cure" on her. While Freud has written of the ability to "psych-analyze" patients by talking to them, it's unknown whether he has actually used it clinically, so this might in fact be the first psych-analysis (Freud later coins "psychoanalysis") patient in history. Well, Spielrein turns out to be rather brilliant herself, enough that she actually becomes a doctor. She's also a sexually repressed masochist.

Things progress along, at first Jung and Freud are friends. On their first meeting, they talk for 13 hours straight before noticing the time. And then comes a random chance meeting that arrives and disappears like a storm, leaving devastation in his wake. That would be the patient Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), who Freud leaves in Jung's care. He is oversexed, and argues with Jung that sexual repression is wrong and there should be no boundaries. In his philosophy, it is the artificial boundaries put upon us by civilized society that deny us our natural desires and cause mental illness. And Jung is intrigued by that philosophy, in no small part because it allows him to cheat on his wife and have lots of kinky masochistic sex with Spielrein.

Cronenberg made quite a career showing quite literal transformation of the flesh. More recently, and especially in this film, he has made parallel explorations of the transformative power of ideas. But Jung's conflict over the question of sexual liberty reminds me of his early film SHIVERS (aka THEY CAME FROM WITHIN) in which the horror is a parasite that infects the victims' brains and turns them into sex addicts. I heard him once say in an interview that he made it specifically to reflect his ambivalence about the Sexual Revolution. That was one of his earliest films, and yet he's coming back to the same ideas, from a mental rather than physical point of view. Because after all, in Cronenberg's world ideas are flesh and flesh is just an idea.

Running Time: 99 minutes
My Total Minutes: 260,935
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