Toronto: Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender are sensational as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in 'A Dangerous Method.' Plus, Werner Herzog's bogus redneck murder message movie


Image Credit: Liam Daniel

I’m not exactly a cultist for David Cronenberg — I didn’t think A History of Violence was very convincing, or even that The Fly was a great horror film — but I was primed, in Toronto, to see    A Dangerous Method, in which Viggo Mortensen plays Sigmund Freud and Michael Fassbender plays Carl Jung. Keira Knightley — yes, Keira Knightley — plays the sexed-up, tormented Russian Jewish hysteria patient-turned-psychoanalyst prodigy who comes between the two of them. When you consider that Freud and Jung, along with Einstein, were arguably the most influential thinkers of the last hundred years, there have been precious few dramatic features that have attempted to deal with who they really were. (Montgomery Clift played Freud in a 1962 John Huston biopic, and that movie was every bit as repressed as it sounds.) I went into A Dangerous Method eager to see Freud and Jung come to life on screen as they might, perhaps, have really been. And Cronenberg, at his most restrained, delivers — the movie, though less overtly exciting than some of his others, gave me just what I wanted. It’s a play of sensuality and ideas rooted in the opposing spirits (rational vs. mystical, Jewish Austrian vs. Protestant Swiss) of these two infamous allies-turned-adversaries.

The movie is framed as Jung’s story, and Fassbender, courtly and polite, hidden behind a clockmaker’s mustache, makes the bourgeois but searching Jung a paradoxical explorer: He’s devoted to his wealthy wife (Sarah Gadon), and to the children she keeps bringing forth, yet Knightley’s Sabina, who becomes his patient and lover, represents more than temptation. She’s his chance to break on through to the other side — to the secret dark truth of pain, masochism, and sex as creative destruction. Knightley’s performance, with its gargantuan mood swings from jaw-gnashing psychosis to femme-fatale hunger, has already divided a lot of people at the festival, but I think she works just fine. The movie’s real, tragic love story is the increasingly frayed bond between Freud and Jung.

Freud, who Jung reveres as a mentor and father figure, accepts the erotic intensity of everyday life but has no real use for it. He’s the man who defined the pleasure principle, yet his holy mission is to figure out how to live within its boundaries. It was a stroke of inspiration to cast the virile, rock-solid confident Mortensen as the godfather of neurosis. Puffing on a cigar, he makes Freud a charismatic control freak, a man all too eager to engage in dream analysis yet too much of a self-designated authority figure to put his own dreams up for dissection. Jung, working in his own clinic in Switzerland, starts out as Freud’s disciple, but when Jung begins to advocate for the irrational, for the power of coincidence, for sex as magic, he’s really arguing for a different kind of psychoanalysis — for hope in place of determinism. Fassbender brings Jung the tormented angelic mind-bender to life. He and Mortensen turn Jung and Freud into X-men of the unconscious. They know they’re freaks, and that’s their liberation.

The two get locked in a war that’s really a tango of egos and ideals. Yet for some of us, Freud and Jung are hardly opposed. I personally couldn’t imagine the philosophy of one without the other. In a funny way, A Dangerous Method is Cronenberg’s libido-driven Masterpiece Theatre movie. At times, it’s a little staid, yet it’s the first Cronenberg film in a while that feels justified in putting itself on the couch.

* * * *


Image Credit: Film Images

Werner Herzog is a god at this festival, where his brilliant documentaries, in recent years, have played to greater and greater acclaim. He had a special triumph last year with the anthro-mystical catacomb-painting meditation Cave of Forgotten Dreams, so you’d better believe that people were primed for his new film, Into the Abyss, a tale of bloody murder in Texas that is also the director’s statement against capital punishment. Before the first showing, Herzog, looking natty in a dark suit, and speaking in that inimitable sing-song Teutonic Yoda English of his, got up on stage and said, quite simply, that he had no real “argument” to make against capital punishment, just a story to tell — though he added that no German he knew of his generation, who came up under the shadow of the Nazi era, could tolerate the concept of state-sponsored executions.

The audience loved the movie. And when Herzog is working in his open-eyed, discursive, stranger-than-fiction mode, I tend to feel the same way. But I’m afraid that I’m going to have to dissent, big time, on Into the Abyss. I absolutely hated the movie; I thought it was rambling, dishonest, and — a rarity for Herzog — timid rather than exploratory. It wants to be Herzog’s Dead Man Walking, but it’s basically a bad episode of A Current Affair with gothic-redneck flourishes and a tacked-on liberal message it never earns.

In the small town of Conroe, Texas, Herzog visits a death-row inmate, Michael Perry (pictured, above), who is 28 years old and scheduled to die on July 1, 2010. A decade before, when he was a carousing teenager, he’d been convicted, along with his friend Jason Burkett, of a triple homicide. These two broke into a home inside a gated community, and before long they had slaughtered an acquaintance’s mother (while she was baking cookies) and, a short while later, murdered two teenagers. Herzog shows us hideous, gore-splattered crime-scene video, yet he doesn’t quite seem to grasp the nature of this crime. He buys completely into a policeman’s repeated statement that three people died so that the killers (who claimed to be innocent; each one of them blamed the other) could steal a red Camero from the garage. Oh, the irony of violent crime! But a murder as gruesome as this one doesn’t arise out of a desire to steal. It arises out of an appetite to commit gruesome murder.

Herzog spends a lot of time talking to the buck-toothed, ignorant, sociopathically detached Michael Perry, presenting him as a guy who knows that he caused a lot of pain and now regrets it. But the director never really tries to get inside the darkness of Perry’s mind. (The Herzog I love would have been dying to enter that cave.) He treats the murder as a distant, “bygone” fact and, in the process, defuses its horrific reality. He also interviews family members of the victims, and certainly, he allows them to express the depths of their agony and rage and loss. But I’d have been more comfortable if the film didn’t seem to be taking an almost lip-smacking delight in the trailer-trash garishness of a lot of the people it shows us. By the time Herzog interviews a man whose job it was to coordinate executions, and presided over 125 of them before he quit out of disgust, the film’s message couldn’t be clearer: Vicious young killers are human beings too. Well, yes, but if Herzog had been more unsparing about their viciousness, their evil, then perhaps his plea for their humanity would have given you chills and not just the creeps.

Follow Owen on Twitter: @OwenGleiberman

Comments (69 total) Add your comment
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  • Chris

    I can’t wait to see the Freud/Jung movie.

  • Rex


    • LOL

      This could have been Vin Diesel’s Oscar opportunity. Why do all these no name people get the best roles?

      • James

        Honestly? Vin Diesel? In a movie like this dont be stupid…. and Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender arent no names

      • Charley

        Viggo keeps showing his wiener in all his movies. He so nasty! I’m with LOL when it comes to Vin Diesel. He’s really talented and just needs a great movie to shine in. Take a look at Reese Witherspoon. Everyone only saw her as a dumb blonde from the roles she has been typecast in. All it took is a smart director putting her in Walk The Line and suddenly she’s an Oscar winner. The same could be done for Vin Diesel.

      • Anika

        @Charley. Grow up. How many actress do nudity in movies and it’s totally acceptable. And all his movies? I can only think of 2 (Eastern Promises, which was great and Indian Runner which is like 15 years old or more).

      • James S.

        Clearly no one caught the humor in LOL’s post. So sad when things have to be spelled out for people.

      • Jo

        @James — probably because LOL likes to go to a bunch of articles and post things like Fast Five was the best movie ever and America likes crap. So humor or humorless, he just comes across as dumb.

    • dee dee1

      I hope Viggo finally gets his Oscar moment. Such a great actor! Overlooked for far too long.

    • Roland

      Totally agree, dee dee1! Mr. Mortensen is waaay overdue for an Academy Award. Hope this is the one that wins it for him!

      • Charley

        The only award he’s going to get is a Mr. Skin award.

  • Chelsea

    I’d probably see anything with Fassbender in it.

  • Red

    Freud and Jung…and Einstein? I don’t know that I’d put those three together. Pyschoanalisis isn’t sending men into space or charting the universe.

    • Dani

      Psychocanalysis has influenced literature and art of pretty much everyone in the past 100 years. Maybe a few classes at college would help you out.

      • Joe

        Condescend much?…

      • Pooh

        Project much?…

    • Chris

      Red, you can’t be serious? The work done by Freud and Jung has altered the way we view ourselves and others.

  • Lily

    Can’t wait!! Viggo has always been amazing in everything he’s ever done. Michael Fassbender is extroardinary. And always love Keira.

    • Ruby

      Yes to Viggo and Fassbender. I’m kinda eh about Keira. All of her mannerisms and personalities are pretty much the same in every movie.

    • LOL

      Who the heck is Fassbender?

      • dee dee1

        Michael Fassbender was great in Jane Eyre. The best Mr. Rochester I have seen. He’s a great actor. These two together will be sensational.

      • Chelsea

        Yeah, he was wonderful in Jane Eyre. And 300. I first saw him in “Hunger” and was really impressed. And of course X-Men: First Class! Him in that wet suit…

      • LOL

        No one gives a crap about some Jane Eyre movie. Now 300 rocked! So I guess this Fassbender guy is ok. I was just thinking how awesome it would have been if Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel were in 300. There should be a sequel or prequel.

      • Dave

        Fassbender was also in Inglourious Basterds.

  • Flip

    Why aren’t Cronenberg’s newer films as good as his older stuff like Videodrome? I just can’t get in to his more mainstream stuff.

  • Dave

    I’m very excited to see A Dangerous Method. Mortensen, Knightley, Fassbender…I’m there. Here’s hoping they all get Oscar noms.

    • Jessica

      It is a dark comedy. Hardly ahinnytg like 40 year old virgin, much more in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine. I happen to think Carell is very talented, but to each their own. Keira needed a movie like this, in my opinion, to challenge herself, and to show the audience she can do it. Yes, she excels in period dramas, but there is nothing wrong with her taking a stretch. I also love how she seems to go for pieces where women write and direct. It says a lot about her.And yes, ninja! She is FIRST billed. And I mean, I think she\’ll have to go to these things. I feel like her and Joe would have worked that out previously, as he understands how this all works but who knows. I know she is shy, and doesn\’t like to be taken around like a pony, but this role of Sabina could really change things for her. So I hope she takes the opportunity.And, you probably shouldn\’t comment on Crazy, Stupid Love if you haven\’t seen it just a word of advice to you.

  • Mohammed

    Michael Fassbender wins BEST ACTOR at the Venice Film Festival for “SHAME” !!! Great actor . Now he is perpahs the one to beat for the Oscars with at least to great performances in DM and Shame.

    • Chelsea

      Just saw that! Good for him, he’s amazingly talented (and hot)

    • d

      Problem is the Academy is a boring predictable institution that kisses ass of Clooney and Pitt. They won’t dare to go anywhere near such an artistic and daring film. I hope they at least nominate him.

      • Pittner

        Brad Pitt has had a great career over 20 years now and he’s only been nominated twice.

      • Dave

        Since when does the Academy kiss Brad Pitt’s ass? He’s only been nominated twice even though he has turned in great performances throughout his career, and the snub for his superb performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford still stings.

  • mm

    this movie had me at Keira

  • creighton

    I obviously haven’t seen into the Abyss, but as far as I’m concerned herzog has never done a poor movie. A few Sub-par ones but never a bad one. this is the first negative review I’ve read but you bring up a lot of interesting points and I will keep them in mind when I see it at the IFC center in several months.

  • salma

    well as long as my beloved michael fassbender is in this movie i’ll see it

    • Nikola

      That was so sweet of David. I would like to see a little snmethiog from Rob, that would be the cherry on the cake. I will support this film. I do believe this film will make back it\’s money and know it will surpass A Dangerous Method, with the huge Rob fanbase. I am crossing my fingers that Rob receives great critical success with this movie and hope those fans who voted so much during the brawl will support him when this film is released. I also hope they receive a US distributor that we won\’t have to wait 2 years or more like we did with Bel Ami. Crossing all body parts.

  • Jenna

    I’m glad to hear A Dangerous Method is good. Does this mean we get a Fassbender and Mortensen cover? Or at least a sexy photoshoot? :)

  • Lyndsey

    Really want to see A Dangerous Method!!
    Speaking as someone who had a loved one ruthlessly murdered at only 17, those guys deserve the death penalty! Guys like that aren’t sorry for what they did, they’re just sorry they got caught. If he wanted to make a statement about the death penalty he should have chosen different criminals!!

    • Jakelin

      I forgot about that she is the first ilbled before the boys isn’t she? Not third or sandwiched in between F and M alphabetically.I agree that I am looking forward to SAF because is it something we haven’t seen from Keira in quite sometime.. I’m thinking Bend it Like Beckham? a comedy! and you know next year there will probably be a LOT of end of the world movies.. and SAF has an interesting take on it.

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  • Anika

    I will watch anything Viggo is in. He never disappoints. And I love Keira Knightley. It’s a win-win for this movie!

    • K

      Me too Anika! Viggo is amazing.

  • anti

    a dangerous method cover.!

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