Director : David Cronenberg
Starring : Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon
Running Time : 99 minutes
Release Date : 29 March 2012
Around 100 years ago, 2 psychiatrists were making waves with a radical new ‘talking cure’ for patients. Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) was already an eminent if controversial psychiatrist and Carl Jung (Fassbender) was his heir apparent. The two men have never met or even corresponded. When an hysterical Sabina Spielrein (Knightley) is admitted into his care, Jung begins treating her with Freud’s talking cure. The results are almost immediate and Sabina makes great progress. Sabina’s psychological problems stem from her abusive father and her own sexual pleasure derived from his punishments.
As Jung’s treatment of Sabina continues, his young wife (Gadon) suggests he contact and visit Freud. Their first meeting lasts some 14 hours. Freud is an interesting character who, although adamant and unmoving in his views, is played as a family man with some warmth to him. Jung, on the other hand, is beyond cold, almost robotic. No matter what questions are asked or how he answers, his demeanour never waivers or falters. He is deeply, deeply repressed.
Otto Gross (Cassel) is a rogue Freud devotee who spends many months with Jung, talking with him and opening his eyes to the possibility that Freud may not have it all right. He is a tragic and clearly unbalanced character, another searcher who can never find the answers he craves. It ultimately leads to his demise and subsequent death.
This movie explores many different relationships. Mentor and student, father and son, husband and wife, lover and lover, doctor and patient, parent and child, friend and friend, colleague and colleague. And it is all done with exquisite care and beauty.
With Cronenberg as Director, I had expected a certain level of violence, especially considering his last few collaborations with Mortensen were Eastern Promises and a personal favourite of mine, A History of Violence. When it became clear there would be no obvious violence, I sat back and waited for the psychological violence. Or the undercurrent of violence. It never happened.
Instead this movie is a study in subtlety. It is quiet and structured and orderly. Everyone and everything has it’s place. The actors play their characters as understated almost refined beings. I suppose they were rather refined at this time in history, just before the onset of WWI. Apart from Knightly and her utterly distracting jutting chin that is. She is a wonderful actress but her far too slender physique and jutting jaw were uncomfortable, almost painful, to watch. This is not just my opinion either. I spoke with other patrons and they felt exactly the same. Truly horrendous.
The scenery and sets are gorgeous, just gorgeous. The interior sets are rich and lush and the outdoor scenery is truly spectacular. The location shots are mesmerising. I love the look and feel of Europe so much and it is captured gloriously in this movie. At times it is used to juxtapose the inner turmoil of the characters. When Sabine & Jung are interacting as lovers, but not being intimate, most of their scenes are shot outside in a calm garden or on a boat on the gently moving lake. He is married so their relationship is inherently fraught with danger, even removing all other elements.
The acting is flawless. As I touched on previously, the actors underplay their characters. Mortensen is a God among actors and his Freud is perfect with just the right amount of arrogance coupled with a man who has studied for a long time and knows what he is talking about. Knightly is good but that jaw….oh dear.
Michael Fassbender is the true star. His tightly wound up and controlled Jung is divine. Only once does his carefully constructed shell crack and it is so unexpected, the audience gasped. He is a watcher, an observer and seems to move on the fringes of his life, never truly stepping in and living it. Clearly he is a disturbed man but he is also a brilliant psychiatrist.
The names Freud and Jung are so much a part of modern culture that their names, especially Freud, has found it’s way into our everyday language. And with good reason. These men were controversial trailblazers who broke with tradition and followed their instincts. It is to Cronenberg’s eternal credit that he cast the wonderful Mortensen and Fassbender in his lead roles. They do the story and real life men justice. You should ensure you see this movie. It is compelling, thoughtful and very educational. It will be more than you could ever have expected.