David Cronenberg’s distance

David Cronenberg is like platinum.

If I knew how to invest in him, I would. His value will only appreciate.

I had the good fortune to recently see A Dangerous Method and it struck how Cronenberg’s films have reflected his age – his age in filmmaking terms, that is. For 30-40 years now he has made films and, in the last ten years, films that – to me – are complex but appearing simple and therefore beautiful. Perhaps it was Spider that marked the transformation from what we knew him as in his 80s & 90s work.

Please don’t me wrong, I do still love Crash, The Fly, eXistenZ [the 1st of his flims I ever saw] and all his early ‘Baron of Blood’ stuffs however it is his maturity that has made him slowly and surely become my favourite contemporary director.

Since Spider, Cronenburg has taken Brechtian distancing in on itself so much so that – in exploring the infinite geographies of the  landscapes of violence – he has come to see its natural conclusion (and ongoing usage) in individuals and in his style as something to be measured and used in measure. Each of the shots in A Dangerous Method distance us some from the tension in the room, the foreboding in people’s actions, and the great, powerful flux of the characters emotions. Unless, that is, we’re faced directly and closely with character’s faces.

The some talked about spanking is – to me – beautiful, tasteful and only worthy of mention because it too balances this distancing so well by not focusing solely on the violence but by letting us see how both characters react, where they look and how good the release is for them by keeping the shot at a middle-distance.

When Jung cries, we are so close we see the creases in his once unreadable face.
When Freud falls, we are so close we see the twitches he wishes to hide.
When Spielrein cries,  we are so close we see the convulsions in her lower eyelids.

Just a side note to say: that the three leads give great performances; I’m glad to see Cronenberg’s ongoing muse-affair with Mortensen; and Sarah Gadon puts in a beautifully understated performance – with an excellent usage of voice – to give a very human take on the wife-scorned.

Thanks, all – I think I’ll watch it again when I can.

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3 responses to “David Cronenberg’s distance

  1. Hmmm. Alexandra and I watched this film together and we really didn’t like it. Perhaps it is mainly because we are both big Freud and Jung fans respectively (I like the Freud, she loves the Jung) and it seemed to jam both of these men into fairly 2 dimensional characters based on little more than the most famous preconceptions and myths about their lives and work (Freud the frustrated sex obsessed pervert, Jung the esoteric fantasist) – something which does neither of them justice, as their work and theories spanned so much further than what they are simply best known for. We did like some of it, and I thought the camerawork was nicely done, and the silent shots were well styled. But the content was dodgy, at best, and I felt Keira Knightley was particularly poorly cast, not least because her accent was all over the shop.

    Anyway, good to see you reviewing again. I guess I have a bit of a bias – I’m a big fan of the subject and by no means a fan of the director. Although eXistenZ is well cool.

  2. Ah, you see – I’ve never been a big fan [though I've read and appreciate much of both, especially Jung's Collective Unconscious idea] of either of Freud or Jung so I was able to take the world of the film solely as the world.

    I think this practice is key to an analysis of a film: a play perhaps not so but I think I have to take the world of the film solely as the world, for me, for a film.

    In the film, though they *talk* about Freud’s sexual leaning, they noticeably make him a family man and his portrayal by Mortensen is cleansed entirely from sleaze – if anything, they give Jung a good deal of sleaze in his dealings with Spielrein. The same applies to Jung’s fantastical notions, though they talk about his “fairies at the bottom of the garden”, it is Jung who feels the pull of the sexual, the real and the very human violence that must be expressed. After all, his line “Sometimes we must do something unforgivable to carry on living” is the most violent, the most sexual and psychologically charged (and possibly perverted, in the traditional taboo-sense) in the film.

    I too thought on their individual portrayals in the film and struggled with whether or not the makers had lent too far one way or the other until I saw Freud and his family which was then reinforced by Jung’s fall – the composition of the boat scene I thought an elegant touch that encapsulated how they saw a good deal of Freud & Jung: red sails for Spielrein’s hymen-blood as the driving force; Freud’s lake of the shifting psychological landscapes beneath and around them on which was Jung’s own, characteristically cream boat; they two laying the middle in utter contentment, post-violence; and the simple representation of bodies within a body of water both hidden and exposed. ‘Both hidden and exposed’, Freud & Jung – father and son, old body & young, never quite seeing each other.

    The difficulty comes in analyzing this one because it *was* originally a play. Of course, neither a play nor a film can expose all of the men’s work but can give us a snapshot or a conversation – a talking cure for the impossibility of understanding the landscapes of the inner selves of people whose work we think we know.

    And yeeeeah, Knightley’s accent was dodgy as all soot but I think her physical presence was stronger than it’s ever been in any film – sure, she’s not great but she’s certainly better in this than in anything I’ve seen her in.

    Thanks for the kudos, old chap. I hope I can keep it up now that I’m attempting writing as the main source of income.

    Glad I’ve found another eXistenZ fan!

    All my best to you, Alexandra and the young’un.

  3. Pingback: A letter for Mr Robert Pattinson « Ben Gwalchmai·

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