Friday, February 10, 2012

Cronenblog: A Viggo-Rous Approach

Love him or hate him, a new film by David Cronenberg always gives the discerning punter cause for celebration: if, after all, a resoundingly cerebral – not to mention gloriously perverse – filmmaker like Cronenberg can continue to find gainful employment four decades into one of the most profoundly out-there careers in modern cinema, then there is hope. 

Those who are quick to dismiss Cronenberg’s latest work, A Dangerous Method (opening at the IFI this weekend), as further evidence that a true celluloid renegade has muted his edgier instincts are examining this fascinating picture on the most superficial of levels: make no mistake, it’s innately Cronenbergian to the core. Here, the literal body horror of his earlier, showier works has been supplanted by something deeper – the mind as slave to the body’s ferocious, insatiable appetites. For all its restraint, there’s a delicious sense of chaos lurking beneath its seemingly benign surface.

Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen 

David Cronenberg is often renowned for getting career-best work from his actors, from Jeff Goldblum in The Fly (1987) to Ralph Fiennes in the still underappreciated Spider (2002): while much attention has been devoted to A Dangerous Method stars Michael Fassbender (in is his third noteworthy movie role in less than a month) and Keira Knightley (her work here is revelatory, and divides audience right down the middle), the true star of A Dangerous Method is Viggo Mortensen, a welcome presence in his third consecutive Cronenberg film, after A History Of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007). In the seminal Faber tome Cronenberg On Cronenberg – last revised in 1997, and sorely in need of another update – much is made of the quintessential Cronenbergian male, prone as they are towards ill-advised temptation, masochistic tendencies, and pathos-filled martyrdom. Über-intense method actor Viggo has proved more than up to the role; this time out, arguably, the position is split three ways - it’s like The Fly in reverse, utilising transference as opposed to teleportation. There are elements of our quintessential Cronenbergian protagonist to be found in Fassbender’s eccentric Carl Jung, Knightley’s disturbed Sabina Spielrein and Mortensen’s benign Sigmund Freud: while the latter’s performance is the least showiest on offer (particularly when you factor the always entertaining Vincent Cassel, playing to the cheap seats with tangible relish as a fellow analyst), it’s the one that truly resonates. His connection to the material is absolute, and tangible; ironically enough, Mortensen only joined the project when the initially cast Christoph Waltz dropped out. It’s hard to imagine the film succeeding without him.

Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender

As for Cronenberg (can he really be 70 next March?), he’s already moved onto his next willing victim, gamely offering himself up for celluloid dissection - teen idol Robert (Twilight) Pattinson, who stars in his already completed adaptation of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. It’s safe to say that R-Patz has a tough act to follow.

Derek O'Connor

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