A DANGEROUS METHOD, DRY COMEDY, AND THE PROBLEMS OF ADORING CRONENBERG

September 22, 2011

SOMETIMES IT’S NOT FAIR TO ADORE DAVID CRONENBERG… SPECIFICALLY TO DAVID CRONENBERG.

SEE, FOR THOSE OF US WHO LOVE EVERYTHING HE’S EVER DONE: HIS BODY HORROR, HIS TRANSCENDENT WORK IN THE FLY AND DEAD RINGERS, HIS CAR CRASH SEX EPIC, HIS SO-CALLED ARTISTIC “FAILURES”, HIS RECENT ACTION/DRAMA OUTPUT, HIS SENSE OF KUBRICKIAN CONTROL, HIS ECONOMY, HIS CAPACITY TO SHOWCASE UNCANNY VIOLENCE, HIS ABILITY TO BALANCE TONE, HIS ABILITY TO BE SIMPLY BE UNIQUE…

… IT CAN BE HARD FOR US WHEN HE JUST MAKES A GREAT, REGULAR MOVIE.

WHICH IS, OBVIOUSLY, SUPER UNFAIR TO HIM.

OH THERE’S REASONS THAT TOTALLY MAKE SENSE FOR CRONENBERG TO DIRECT A DANGEROUS METHOD. BUT THE FILM IS NOT THAT CRONENBERG-Y EVEN THOUGH IT’S TALKING ABOUT CRONENBERG-Y THINGS (IF THAT MAKES SENSE). DESPITE THE NATURE OF THE CONVERSATIONS AND THE OCCASIONAL GLIMPSE OF S+ M SEXY-TIME, IT’S THOROUGHLY RESERVED IN PRESENTATION AND TONE. THE PROBLEM IS CRONENBERG USUALLY USES RESERVATION AS BUILD UP BEFORE THESE MOMENTS OF UNRESTRAINED CHAOS AND THE ABJECT WEIRDNESS HE FAMOUS FOR… BUT THOSE MOMENTS NEVER REALLY COME. WHICH MEANS THE FILM IS SOMETHING ELSE. IT’S TALKY. IT’S PERIODY. IT’S HISTORICALLY ACCURATE. IT’S LOW-ENERGY. IT’S SORT OF CRONENBERG’S VERSION OF AN MERCHANT-IVORY PIECE.

BUT IT IS ALSO VERY, VERY GOOD. DO NOT THINK OTHERWISE.

THE PAST FEW YEARS WE’VE SLOWLY BEEN SEEING HIS TRANSITION FROM DAVID CRONENBERG, MAKER OF THEĀ  SHOCKINGLY UNIQUE, TO DAVID CRONENBERG, SERIOUS FILMMAKER. THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY HIS EARLIER FILMS WERE NOT “SERIOUS” BUT THE POINT IS YOU COULD SHOW NAKED LUNCH TO A REGULAR PERSON AND FREAK THE-LIVING-FUCK OUT OF THEM AND NOW HE’S MAKING THE KINDS OF MOVIES THAT PROBABLY WON’T. THIS IS OKAY FOR HIS FANS THOUGH BECAUSE HE’S STILL IMBUING HIS STYLE, CONTROL, AND “CRONENBERGNESS” INTO THESE MORE TRADITIONAL NARRATIVES. MORE IMPORTANTLY, IT TOTALLY WORKS.

BUT A DANGEROUS METHOD IS SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT. IT IS CERTAINLY A CONTINUATION OF THAT EVOLUTION AND THE TAMEST FILM HE’S EVER MADE, BUT THERE IS AN INTERESTING WAY THAT HE IS SHOWING US SOMETHING NEW:

A DANGEROUS METHOD IS ONE OF THE DRIEST COMEDIES YOU WILL EVER SEE.

VIGGO MORTENSEN, HULK SHIT YOU NOT, IS HILARIOUS AS SIGMUND FREUD. WATCHING HIM HULK REALIZED WE’VE NEVER REALLY SEEN MORTENSEN HAVE A WHOLLY COMIC ROLE BEFORE. KEEP IN MIND HE’S NOT DOING PRATFALLS OR ANYTHING- WAIT, NO THERE’S TOTALLY A PRATFALL, HULK TAKE THAT BACK… BUT THE POINT IS HE’S NOT DOING BROAD COMEDY. THIS IS DRY COMEDY. DEADPAN STARES, UNDERSTATED EXHIBITIONS OF GLARING EGO AND JEALOUSY, QUIET SHIFTS IN CONVERSATION ALWAYS COMING BACK TO THE PENIS. HULK READILY ADMITS THAT FAMILIARITY WITH FREUD IS ALMOST NECESSARY TO GET A LOT OF WHAT’S FUNNY ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE, BUT VIGGO AT ONCE DELIVERS SOMETHING THAT IS ORGANIC AND HUMAN AND YET SOMETHING THAT WHOLLY COMMENTS ON THIS LARGER-THAN-LIFE FIGURE. IT’S SMART, HILARIOUS AND MAYBE HULK’S FAVORITE PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR.

MICHAEL FASSBENDER IS JUST AS GOOD. HIS CARL JUNG ALSO GETS MILEAGE OUT OF KNOWING ABOUT A LOT ABOUT THE EQUALLY LARGER-THAN-LIFE FIGURE, BUT THE PORTRAIT OF HIM AS A YOUNGER MAN IS FASCINATING: COMPASSIONATE, IDEALIST, YET REPRESSED, ACUTELY UNAWARE. THE COMPLETE PORTRAIT OF THE HYPOCRISY OF THE WELL-INTENTIONED MAN. BUT HE IS ALSO, YES, RATHER FUNNY. FASSBENDER MANAGES TO EVOKE LAUGHS FROM THE SIMPLEST AWKWARD BACK AND FORTHS WITH HIS WIFE, THE PLAYFUL ENTRANCES AND EXITS INTO ROOMS, AND THE WAY HE SERVES HIMSELF DINNER. WE’VE KNOWN FASSBENDER IS THE REAL DEAL FOR A FEW YEARS NOW, BUT IN THIS FILM WE GET YET ANOTHER WHOLLY DIFFERENT AUGMENTATION OF HIS SO-CALLED PERSONA. HIS RANGE SEEMS LIMITLESS.

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY IS A DIFFERENT SITUATION AND PROVIDES HULK AN OPPORTUNITY TO TALK ABOUT A WEIRD ISSUE THAT COMES UP WHEN PEOPLE DISCUSS PERFORMANCE:

THERE IS THIS FREQUENT CRITICAL COMMENT WHERE SOMEONE SAYS THEY “COULDN’T GET PAST” THE ACTOR TO SEE THE CHARACTER. HULK IS ALWAYS SORT OF SUSPICIOUS OF THIS COMMENT BECAUSE IT REEKS OF THINGS LIKE BIAS AND NOT UNDERSTANDING WHAT “ACTING” IS EVEN ABOUT. BUT FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YEARS, HULK SORT OF FELT THAT WAY. PLEASE UNDERSTAND, IT’S NOT SOMETHING LIKE HULK LOOKS AT HER SEES ELIZABETH SWANN EVERYTIME. IF FACT, HULK THOUGHT SHE ACTUALLY WONDERFUL IN ATONEMENT, BUT WITH THIS PERFORMANCE SPECIFICALLY THERE IS SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T TRANSLATE. WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO REALIZE IS IT’S NOT BECAUSE SHE IS SIMPLY “KEIRA KNIGHTLEY.” THAT WOULD BE WRONG ON EVERY CRITICAL LEVEL. EVEN IF HULK FELT LIKE HULK CAN’T GET PAST THE ACTOR, IT IS ALWAYS A MATTER OF SOMETHING ELSE MORE NUANCED. WHETHER IT IS A COMBINATION OF THE ACCENT OR DISTANCE HULK FELT FROM HER, HULK CANNOT LET THE AMBIGUITY FOR HULK’S REASONS MAKE IT COME SO HULK DEFAULTS TO SAYING SHE “MISCAST” OR SOMETHING.(1) HULK PROBABLY WAGER THAT IT IS MOST LIKELY THE FACT THAT MORTENSEN AND FASSBENDER ARE ABLE TO TELL THE EMOTIONAL STORY OF THE FILM WITH DEADPAN STARES AND LONGING EYES, WHILE KNIGHTLY HAS TO VERBALIZE HER TRAUMA/DRAMA/ID. AND EVEN STILL, THE PROBLEMS OF THE PERFORMANCE ARE NOT FROM LACK OF COURAGE. SHE THROWS HERSELF IN FULLY AND THAT IS MORE THAN ADMIRABLE.

BUT ANY PERFORMANCE SHORTCOMINGS ARE MADE UP BY THE FACT THAT HER CHARACTER, SABINA SPIELREIN, IS A REAL PERSON OF STUNNING HISTORICAL IMPACT AND ALL TOGETHER FASCINATING. IT IS INCONCEIVABLE TO HULK THAT HULK COULD KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT FREUD AND JUNG AND YET NOT KNOW OF SABINA AND HER INCREDIBLE IMPACT ON BOTH FIGURES, AS WELL AS HER IMPACT ON THE FIELD OF PSYCHOLOGY AT LARGE. THE FILM IS WORTH PRICE OF ADMISSION ALONE FOR THE HISTORICAL ILLUMINATION AND DOUBLES AS A GREAT COMMENT OF FEMINISM.

THUS, A DANGEROUS METHOD IS WORTH DOUBLE THE PRICE OF ADMISSION TO SEE CRONENBERG USE THIS HISTORICAL PRECEDENCE TO ALSO MAKE SOMETHING THAT IS ALSO WEIRDLY HILARIOUS. WHAT DOES A CRONENBERG HISTORI-COMEDY LOOK LIKE? SORT OF LIKE THE COEN BROTHERS MIXED WHATEVER MAKES TAYLOR HACKFORD MOVIES FUNNY…. HULK HAS NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS… THE POINT IS THAT THE EFFECT IS INTERESTING BUT NOT REVOLUTIONARY. AND PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THE FILM IS ALSO VERY SERIOUS AND OFTEN SAD. DON’T EXPECT WALL TO WALL LAUGHS, LIKE AT ALL, IT’S JUST THE COMEDIC ASPECTS STAND OUT TO HULK. IT’S FUNNY THE WAY KAFKA IS FUNNY.

SO REALLY THE ONLY LINGERING QUESTION IS HOW TO ACCEPT THIS CONSTANT EVOLUTION OF CRONENBERG, A FILMMAKER WHO DOES SOMETHING THAT IS SO PARTICULAR SO WONDERFULLY AND NOW HE HAPPENS TO BE DOING LESS AND LESS OF IT.

HULK AND HIS FANS DESPERATELY WANT TO SEE THE STRANGE THINGS THAT ENDEARED HIM TO OUR HEARTS AND INSTEAD? HE’S JUST INTERESTED IN DOING DIFFERENT THINGS.

WE STILL COOL, IT’S JUST PART OF THE PROBLEM OF ADORING CRONENBERG.

<3 HULK

ENDNOTES!

(1) THERE GREAT RECENT EXAMPLE OF SAYING CHRISTINA HENDRICKS MISCAST IN DRIVE. THIS IS INSANE. THERE IS A VERY, VERY SPECIFIC REASON SHE WAS CAST IN THAT ROLE AND HULK ARGUE IT HAS A HUGE EFFECT ON THE MOVIE. HULK WON’T SAY CAUSE IT SPOILER-Y. AND ATTENTION PERVERTS: IT’S NOT HER BOOBS.

RANDOM TRUE STORY: HULK’S FRIEND ONCE CREATED/T.A.’D A COLLEGIATE FILM STUDIES CLASS CALLED “IT CAME FROM CANADA! THE WORK OF DAVID CRONENBERG” WHICH QUITE SIMPLY HAS TO BE THE GREATEST NAME FOR A CLASS EVER.

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3 Responses to “A DANGEROUS METHOD, DRY COMEDY, AND THE PROBLEMS OF ADORING CRONENBERG”

  1. [...] A DANGEROUS METHOD, DRY COMEDY, AND THE PROBLEMS OF ADORING CRONENBERG [...]

  2. Turdfeast420 said

    I am a big Cronenberg fan, and I liked this movie (liked it well enough anyway). I agree that Viggo was great and dryly funny. I admired Knightley’s gusto even if I didn’t always find her performance successful. All of that said… did you not find the movie to be sort of thinly dramatized? In that way it sort of avoided biopic syndrome, but I came away not very satisfied. Maybe it could’ve benefited from a narrower focus, because I didn’t feel it did justice to either the Spielman-Jung or Jung-Freud relationships.

    • I finally watched METHOD last night and liked it a lot. I think the “thinly dramatized” aspect your speaking of are the play-like theatrics. It was adapted from both novel and play (playwright and screenwriter being the same) and played with subtle theatrics while simultaneously developing cinematic characteristics; evolving from the play. Maybe you couldn’t catch/see the play-like aspects and continue to watch it from that perspective? I mean, you’re not wrong in any way; you can like and not like what you want. But sometime when you see something for a second time, especially from a different point-of-view, then it can become very different experience (good or bad). I thought this essay was near perfect for a lover of Cronenberg. Thanks HULK.

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