A DANGEROUS METHOD, tends to support my view because, although it is based on other writing, it shows him at least circling the airport of familiar obsessions once again.
It's based on Christopher Hampton's play THE TALKING CURE, based on the true story of Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his personal involvement with a clinically hysterical patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who aspires to practice psychiatry, and how it and the emergence of his own unique views concerning psychoanalysis affected his personal, professional and political relationship with his mentor (and father figure), Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). The situation thus closely follows the template of his masterpiece DEAD RINGERS: two doctors, superficially alike but of different dispositions, are involved with an intense young woman torn between their polar, professional opposition.
I find this to be Cronenberg's most interesting feature since CRASH (a film I didn't much like at the time, but learned to appreciate over time), but what bothers me is that -- fine performances aside -- I don't find it particularly absorbing. Granted, it's a cerebral story, also a story about the control and containment of powerful reckless emotions (shades of SCANNERS, really) -- not only on Sabina's part, but also on Jung's part, whose closing assessment of his emotional life is beautifully described but cold-bloodedly compartmentalized, so that its utterance speaks to untold hours of suffering experienced behind an upright, well-buttoned façade. Likewise, there is something a little too well-ordered about the way A DANGEROUS METHOD unspools. It doesn't feel like an organic whole, of scenes held together by a force of cinema, but rather a string of related but antiseptically self-contained scenes, each designed to make its own individual pointed or sly or wry remark, so that the story feels dealt card-by-card. Some of the problem might be traced to something Cronenberg recently said in an interview with SIGHT & SOUND's Nick James: "Talking heads are the essence of cinema." I'm not sure if he actually believes this, or was intending to be provocative, but cinema has always been most essential when the characters shut up, even for five minutes, and let the story tell itself on a purely visual basis. But his comment would seem to confirm something else I've long believed, that Cronenberg is most important as a writer; his career as a director has always been most important for shepherding his highly original writing to the screen. What concerns me is that his career has become akin to the story so often revisited in his films, including this one: that his acquisition of directorial skills is not developing his voice as a filmmaker so much as controlling it, the polish that comes with mastery softening rather than sharpening the quirky edges that made his best work so fascinating.
Viewed on Amazon Instant Video.