David Cronenberg: The Cronenberg method

The Cronenberg method

David Cronenberg: "In retrospect, I could say I always wanted to do something about Freud"
Photo: courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

David Cronenberg directs Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley in psychosexual drama A Dangerous Method

On paper, it would make perfect sense to any outsider that famed Canadian director David Cronenberg would be the only appropriate choice to direct A Dangerous Method, an exploration of the complex relationship between the great grandfathers of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Melding the cerebral and the hyper-sexual in so heightened a fashion might seem like old hat for the director of Dead Ringers, Crash and A History of Violence, but suggest this to the man himself and you might be surprised to hear what he has to say.

"I have to tell you I don’t think in terms of theme at all," Cronenberg tells me over the phone, right before my chest gets tight at the prospect of insulting one of this country’s most acclaimed talents. "Anyone telling this story would be dealing with those same things. When I’m making a movie, for me, creatively, it’s as if I’ve never made another movie." Cronenberg is also quick to explain that he isn’t trying to be evasive in his response. With that, my tension is relieved and we move on happily.

"In retrospect, I could say I always wanted to do something about Freud," Cronenberg, 68, says upon further reflection. "To say that isn’t really to say anything at all, though, because Freud is such a big topic." And so he just needed the right project to come along, and he found that project in Christopher Hampton’s stage play The Talking Cure. Cronenberg had heard his Spider star Ralph Fiennes was playing Jung in the London production, and while he couldn’t attend, he did read the play, and found the angle he had been looking for all this time.

"I thought it was very doable as a movie and it would be fascinating to approach it just the way Christopher had, which is to say very neutrally," Cronenberg explains. Hampton’s play does not pick sides between Jung and Freud, played on film by Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen respectively, but rather allows the audience to take in their differing points of view and assess on their own where their allegiances lie. The play pits the two against each other by framing their relationship in the context of another, that of a shared patient who was also one of the first female psychoanalysts, Sabina Spielrein, played with great fervour and bravery by Keira Knightley.

As impassioned as it gets on screen, Cronenberg insists that the set itself, located in Vienna and in various German locations, could not have been more ideal. "It was as though, after one or two days, as if you’d worked with everybody many times before," he recalls fondly. Of course, Cronenberg has actually worked with Mortensen before, most recently in 2007′s Eastern Promises. While Christoph Waltz was originally due to play Freud, he had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts, and Mortensen stepped in. "With Viggo, I would say I have a long hand rather than a short hand," Cronenberg describes of their working relationship. "We would exchange something like 25 emails about what kind of cigars Freud smoked and when."

Cronenberg is currently in post-production on his 20th feature, Cosmopolis, based on the Don DeLillo novel and starring Robert Pattinson. But first he must contend with awards season, as A Dangerous Method is naturally garnering attention. Though happy with the acclaim, Cronenberg takes the arduous process in stride. "Awards season isn’t a real season; it’s not like fall or winter," says the man whose first brush with Oscar came when his 1986 film The Fly took home the statue for Best Visual Effects. "It can be very exhausting if you’re nominated, so at a certain moment, part of you is almost praying you don’t get any nominations."

A Dangerous Method

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