tongue-tied lightning

The Best Films of 2011: #6 A Dangerous Method

Jim Emerson did a piece towards the end of last year where he charted the precise moments he fell in love with certain 2011 films. For me and A Dangerous Method that moment was the very second shot. Keira Knightley writhing and screaming, thrusting herself into the corner of the carriage we had just seen racing down the road, in a misguided attempt to break loose of her confinement. Howard Shore’s score feels a little too arch, slightly perverse. As befits a film involving Sigmund Freud, that strain of perversity runs throughout the film. A sense of irreverence for the film’s period trappings. Shots framed slightly askew, attention drawn to Viggo Mortensen’s prosthetic nose, the knowing way in which he’s constantly chomping on his cigar, a precisely timed nip-slip denoting a character’s state of mental imbalance.

It all mirrors the event portrayed in the film, the entrance of Sabina Spielrein into the lives of Jung and Freud and the subsequent introduction of female sexuality into academic discourse. Spielrein is embodied by Keira Knightley in a stunning performance. Her earliest scenes are overwhelmed by bodily contortions, as she physically confines what she perceives as her own perversity. Drawing on great reserves of will to keep it from being dealt with in healthy and natural ways. The performance is over-the-top to the point of discomfort and at the risk of generalization I think in many cases it’s that very feeling of discomfort that has led people to paint this as a bad performance. Cronenberg clearly knows how to handle actors and it’s an insult to assume this isn’t exactly what he wanted on the screen. It’s a clear attempt to create the same feelings in the audience that Spielrein was creating in her peers.

Spielrein is so much the focus of the proceedings that when it steps away and turns to the relationship between Freud and Jung it occasionally loses a bit of it’s momentum. I’ve heard the opposite argued but I find that very difficult to fathom. Also, running at a spare 99 minutes there is a feeling that maybe Cronenberg is attempting to do too much with too little. One wonders what an HBO Miniseries take on A Dangerous Method would’ve been like. But the pleasures here are primarily formal, the way Cronenberg forgoes typical framing, lenses and editing patterns and what he’s trying to communicate by that, it’s a masterclass in mise-en-scene. At the risk of making another generalization and alienating more of you I will say I can only assume those who deride A Dangerous Method as boring are ignoring what’s on the screen and casting their narrow focus towards the page.


2010 Viewing Log #2

“And so it begins…”

A Serious Man I can’t really do this film justice in a blurb, expect something more substantial in the future.  Either an extensive review or something incorporated into my Best of 2009 list.  Stay tuned! ***1/2

A Serious Man It was so good I watched it again, and it was even better! ****

The Road A rather lackluster adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.  Viggo is great, of course, but it’s lacking almost everywhere else.  The score is pretty, but is a pretty score what The Road needs?  I feel the material may benefit from a scoreless approach like the Coen Brothers took with No Country for Old Men.  The score, in concert with the first person narration (ugh) and the added scenes with Charlize Theron all serve to add an air of sentimentality that isn’t present in the novel and undercuts the despair. Despite all that, the ending is still rather moving.  **

The Fantastic Mr. Fox I enjoyed this so much it’s given me the urge to go back and revisit Wes’s earlier films, which had never really wowed me.  I think his baroque sensibilities and dioramic mise-en-scene are well suited to stop motion animation.   The entire cast is great, the surprise highlight being Wally Wolodorsky.  A fun, heist picture that feels like Wes’s anthropomorphic take on Ocean’s Eleven (or maybe it’s just the Clooney factor) with a good message for the kids and one of the year’s best scores to top it off.  ***1/2

The Hudsucker Proxy (rewatch)  The Coens doing Capra and doing it well.  It feels perhaps a bit too long but there are so many wonderful gags and performances it’s hard to grouse too much about it.  In the wake of A Serious Man it’s interesting to see they’ve been making films that are more and less technically flawless for at least 15 years.  This one always seems to be overlooked when discussing their 90’s work, and yes, it is undeniably the weakest they put out that decade, but it’s still worthy of your consideration and is a great addition to one of the most impressive bodies of work in contemporary cinema.  ***

Raising Arizona (rewatch) As good as this is, and it is really good, it feels a bit slight to me in comparison to other Coen Brothers films.  It’s fun, weird, slapstick humor, but it doesn’t seem to have much depth beyond that.  Still, it succeeds at being a fun weird slapstick comedy.  I’ll take this over the Hangover and its ilk any day of the week.  My one problem with the film other than its lack of depth is Sonnenfeld’s cinematography here is easily the least impressive in a Coen picture.  The wide angle wackiness works well from time to time, but there are other times you wish he’d back off.  ***