by Elizabeth Baines
Here are some conversations I’ve had recently:
SCENE 1: A Manchester café.
FRIEND 1: Have you been to see A Dangerous Method? The Cronenberg film about Freud and Jung?
ME: Not yet. Is it good?
FRIEND 1: Keira Knightley is fabulous.
SCENE 2: The same café, a couple of days later.
FRIEND 1: Well, what did you think of the film?
ME: Um … I’m not sure. I found it hard to get my head around somehow. It was very dense verbally, maybe because Christopher Hampton’s screenplay is based on his stage play (The Talking Cure) – all those discussions about psychology: fascinating, but I’m not sure I took it all in. I loved the humour though, the sly symbolism – the way Jung keeps challenging Freud’s idea that everything is based on sex and sexual appetite, and in the early scenes in which they meet he’s always eating (and unaware of how much he’s eating!) – the sexually frustrated man of appetite who then comes a-cropper on his sexual appetite!
FRIEND 2, A PSYCHOLOGIST WHO SAW THE FILM WITH ME: Yes, and the c***t-shaped boat he’s always longed for! Brilliant. But, I don’t know, this subject is something I’ve always been very involved in, but somehow the film didn’t move me. The central triangle between Freud, Jung and Sabina Spielrein (the hysterical, sexually troubled patient Jung first treats using Freud’s innovative psychoanalytic method and who then becomes his lover and a psychiatrist herself) – somehow it didn’t move me, although it should have.
FRIEND 1: But didn’t you think Keira Knightley was fabulous as Spielrein? Michael Fassbender was good as Jung, but Keira Knightley was brilliant. (With less enthusiasm:) I hadn’t heard of the guy playing Freud…
SCENE 3: The same café, later. FRIEND 1 has left.
ME: Well, actually, my big problem with the film was Keira Knightley. The guy playing Freud (Viggo Mortensen) was brilliant – every subtle ironic expression, every bodily movement –
FRIEND 2: Yes, brilliant!
ME: And Fassbender was good. But Knightley just didn’t seem to inhabit her part in the same way. That scene where Spielrein and Jung are on a bench and she invites him to have sex with her, and they lean towards each other: something about that had a real note of dissonance for me, or fakeness, or just, well… emptiness. I don’t know whether it was bad casting, or her acting, or just the fact that she is such a star, but I never for one moment forgot that she was Kiera Knightley – in fact, the whole time I simply saw her as Knightley rather than Spielrein. It’s as if Jung and Freud had an entanglement with Knightley, not Spielrein. Head scramble!!
FRIEND 2: Yeah, you’re right. That’s what comes of making films star vehicles.
ME (Getting het up now and making others in the café stare): I know! Ridiculous! It’s the same in everything: films, novels – novels have to be written by bloomin’ celebrities nowadays, or packaged with a sexy young author! The cult of celebrity! So anti-art! So anti-truth!
SCENE 4: A different café in Manchester.
RADIO DRAMA PRODUCER (To ME, about an idea we are intending to pitch): So, to be sure of press attention and a decent audience, we could do with a big name…
ME: Oh… yes! Wow… great!
by Elizabeth Baines