Synopsis: A look at how the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud gives birth to psychoanalysis.
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightly, Vincent Cassel
Director: David Cronenberg
Running Length: 99 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Glazier – Georg Schneider
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: At the center of Cronenberg’s newest film is the curious rivalry between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. On the outskirts is another tale of the relationship between Jung and a female patient and how she becomes the catalyst that drives a wedge between the two men and their fundamental beliefs. Cronenberg has given us a handsome film with attention to period and detail but that is ultimately light on narrative and purpose.
The problem right off the bat is the casting of Knightly as Sabina Spielrein. The character, as written by Christopher Hampton adapting his play which was itself adapted from a book, starts off howling and carrying on as she’s brought in for treatment with Jung. Knightly is not up to the challenge of playing Spielrein and puts forward an interpretation of a hysteric that’s as unbelievable as her Russian accent. For the first thirty minutes or so, these scenes of her hysteria are nearly unwatchable and you pray to see a nurse prepare a good sedative for her. Alas, she’s left to shudder, scream, stick her jaw out, bug her eyes, and speak in fractured sentences. It’s a performance that is out of place here…even taking into consideration the mental illness being discussed.
Thankfully, she’s calms down as the movie progresses and shares the bulk of her scenes with Fassbender who only makes her better. Fassbender plays a less tortured version of the character he plays in Shame but both share sexual issues that threaten to destroy everything they’ve built up. What he does here is give us a conflicted Jung but neither he nor Knightly generate any heat to give the audience reason to believe they have passion for each other. I never understood why he was drawn to her or continued indulging her obsessive ways.
Mortenson, wearing Nicole Kidman’s fake nose from The Hours, is understated to the point of boredom. I’m pretty sure Frued was at least a little less somber than how Mortenson plays him. A true supporting character, his discussions with Jung are interesting and revealing but he too struggles with connecting to the material enough to give his trajectory great weight. The working relationship/friendship Frued had with Jung always had a bitter edge and we don’t get that here.
Perhaps this is just an overly sophisticated movie at the end of the day. Cronenberg is clearly interested in the vices that make people have but hide and he’s not one to shy away from taboo material. There is darkness here but it’s conducted in the natural light of an office setting rather than in the dark corners of a bedroom. The film is at its best when it digs under the surface to the unknown meaning of dreams and unattained desires but once is ventures into the known world it becomes talky, stagnant, and uninvolving. I can’t help but wonder if Knightly wasn’t the catalyst for this film much like her character was for Jung and Frued. With a different actress in her role the film may have taken off rather than just taxing the runway.