Genre: Period Phychological Drama
Starring: Micheal Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Morttensen, Sarah Gadon and Vincent Cassel.
Running Time: 100 mins approx.
Seen at: Didsbury.
On: Saturday, 18th February, 2012.
Originally associated more with his film’s iconographic zeitgeists of the exploding heads of aliens in several cult-horror classics of the ‘creature-feature’ sub-genre, such as Shivers, Scanners, The Dead Zone and his most commercially successful to date – 1989’s The Fly, David Cronenberg has moved into somewhat grittier, more psychological territory in recent years with A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises.
He teams of with Viggo Mortensen a third time here, again in a radically different setting, this time in 1906 Vienna.
Young academic Carl Jung, is theorizing the founding of a study known as ‘the talking cure’, new therapy methodology, first utilized on the hysteric patient Sabina Spielrein, haunted by visions of her austere father.
Whist this may not be Keira Knightley’s best film (Atonement and The Duchess manage to delve substantially deeper into the overall arc of characterization), it’s certainly her best ever performance.
Within the first quarter-of-an-hour, her presence on the screen is visceral with authenticity. Eyes-popping, posture-contorting, mud-slinging and chin-jutting into disconcerting positions as Sabina is physically unable to articulate her emotions.
Repression, is certainly a recurring theme throughout, which in fact manifests into the sexual, as she is horrified by her frisson-like excitement at the prospect of being beaten. It is an absolutely astonishing performance from Knightley.
Whenever real-life events are enacted on-screen, I’m always intrigued by their level of accuracy. Here for example, a portion of the dialogue exchanges were taken from several actual letters of correspondence. This is a successful cinematic translation of one of the most fascinating periods in history, significantly occurring at the axis of the turn of the twentieth century, a time of monumental change, scientifically, psychologically and socially. It charts the fusion of two of the time’s great contemporaries, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and their polarizing opinion on the emergence on psychoanalysis.
Viggo Mortensen initially expressed his own intimidation at portraying such a well-known figure as Freud, but he is so skillfully subtle, automatically capturing every nuance, whether it be a slight incline of the head, raise of the eyebrows, and of course, contentedly chomping on his inimitable cigar.
The film’s predominant focus however, is Micheal Fassbender’s interpretation of Carl Jung, in particular Jung’s ever-increasingly intimate relationship with his patient, Sabina.
Obviously, it has been widely advertised, especially in the theatrical trailers, that the film’s, shall we say steamier scenes (of which there are a few) do involve some more alternative elements to the act of love-making. In fact though, nothing is gratuitously or explicitly shown at any point, and the sexuality of the film is just as psychological as it is physical – if not more so.
The screenplay, by Christopher Hampton is based upon his own play entitled ‘The Talking Cure’. While it is dialogue heavy, it is that very dialogue, particularly when exchanged between the two academics, which make for a thrilling and refreshing component. ‘Please don’t feel you have to restrain yourself here’ remarks Freud as Jung piles yet another piece of meat onto his plate.
Vincent Cassel adds the lightness of humour, and Alexandre Desplat’s extraordinary score places you directly amongst the gripping tension beneath a bubbling atmosphere.
A gripping account of a fascinating subject, ravishingly shot and superbly realized. Already one of the year’s very best.
Rating: * * * * *