The master of body horror, David Cronenberg, is back, and this time the frailty of the human mind, its intricacies and weaknesses are the object of his desire.
Our session commences with Sabina Spielrein, played by Keira Knightley, being admitted to the institution (sounds much better than loony bin) where Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is practising the teachings of the inimitable Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). With the use of these new teachings on psychoanalysis, Jung strives to get to the root (no tittering down the back there) of Sabina’s outbursts. As they become closer, the boundaries between patient and physician are blurred and as Jung struggles with his core beliefs, the inevitable occurs.
The first act concentrates mainly on the blossoming friendship between Sabina and Jung and when first Jung meets Freud, it is clear that the two do not see monocle to monocle on the main goal of the psychoanalysis movement. Jung wants to show the patient what is wrong and how best they can alter or change themselves while Freud sees the basis for all psychosis in some sexual repression. Jung is tempted by Sabina, but it annoys him greatly to believe that Freud is right in his “sexual” theories and it is not until the anarchist and sexual libertarian Otto Gross appears that Jung begins to question his ideals.
The film takes its time exploring the various dynamics of each relationship entrusting the audience to keep an open mind. Long dialogue scenes about the many contrasting analytical techniques never feel rushed or dumbed down for mainstream appeal. In return we get an intimate portrayal of men and women at the height of their field trying to come to terms with the unknown. Cronenberg has pulled of a master stroke in direction, his lighting, soft focus and composition of shots all combine to give a magnificent example of his craft. One scene in particular stands out when Jung begs Sabina to stay. Cronenberg has managed to make her a veritable giant while Jung appears child like at her feet, in this one shot he conveys the total power shift in their relationship.
The performances are all superb once you get over Knightley’s accent which at first seems a touch ridiculous. Her ability to convey the pain, suffering and sheer resilience of Spielrein is brilliant. Fassbender as Jung must surely be first in line when they decide to cast James Joyce for the biopic and here he shows a mostly levelled and restrained performance making the moments of emotional outburst all the more enjoyable. Freud as father figure is deftly handled by Mortensen with his dry analytical analysis resulting in intentional humour throughout the piece.
A beautifully composed and executed film on the human condition, you’d be nuts to miss it.
Germany/Canada / Directed By: David Cronenberg / Written By: Christopher Hampton / Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Sarah Gadon, Vincent Cassel / 93min / Biography, Drama, Thriller / Release: 13 January 2012 (Canada), 10 February 2012 (UK/Irl)