Although some still uphold his rep as the baron of body anarchy, David Cronenberg’s films get under the skin via ideas, not just gore. So it is with this well-upholstered chamber drama about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
Cronenberg teases a droll dissection of mind-body divides from Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure. The talkiness and lack of danger may seem atypical for the director, but its elegant surface ripples with Cronenbergian conceits.
Sustaining his strike-rate after A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises, Viggo Mortensen delivers another charismatic big man as Freud, ethically upstanding father figure to the younger Jung, a brilliant but morally lax psychoanalyst essayed suavely by Michael Fassbender.
The pair juggle depth with levity, lending Methoda welcome fleetness, like a bearded bromance via Dead Ringers. Especially when they stumble over Sabina (Keira Knightley), first patient then S&M lover to a boundary-breaking Jung.
The film stumbles here, Knightley eliciting unwitting mirth for her arsenal of tics and cod-Russian accent. If it’s not deal-breaking, it’s because her performance grows as Sabina evolves, both as an analyst and counterpoint to Jung’s psychological fragility. Granted, their affair offers sparse sparks given the extra-marital hanky-spanking involved.
Intellectual sparks fly, though; Cronenberg-friendly ideas including the limits of pragmatism, value of neurosis and society’s contract with repression. The latter idea spurts from Vincent Cassel in a tasty cameo as Otto Gross, sexual freedom fucker. He’s Method’s update of Shivers’ (1975) sympathetic sex slugs: conclusive proof that dirty Dave’s subversive mitts are all over the fine furnishings here.
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The talky emphasis may alienate, but Cronenberg’s psychoanalysis session offers wry writing, elegant direction and fine leads.