I'm wrapping up this week revisiting David Cronenberg's post-horror career with the trailer for A Dangerous Method. The idea that Cronenberg has abandoned horror or body horror is debatable - he's simply found different avenues, some of which have alienated audiences enamored with his earlier work.
A Dangerous Method is decidedly Cronenbergian, though its body horror concepts aren't overtly obvious (aside from that thing Keira Knightley does with her jaw). This film is like an answer key or a glossary to help define his earlier work. It's heavily psychological, but Keira Knightley's performance as Russian headcase Sabina Spielrein and the exploration of her affair with Michael Fassbender's perfect portrayal of Carl Jung lends a little body horror to what is, essentially, a verbose film.
Cronenberg's examination of the repression of our sexual urges - the subject for which Freud (played by Viggo Mortensen) is best known - is somewhat restrained, with Sabina's outbursts and tendencies providing the film's momentum. Sabina embodies a translation between psychological and physical, and her presence calls into question Jung's ideals. Although there isn't much in the way of blunt bodily exploration, there is a particular and peculiar tension throughout. A Dangerous Method deftly skirts around a blatant exhibition in a manner that's often unnerving.
The film is more concerned with looking at our complicated relationship with our sexuality and our desires, and the questionable diagnoses and therapies that led to defining a patient's desires and proclivities by their past traumas, inextricably linking the two - an idea that can foster more harm than progress or understanding. Of course, Jung's version of therapy is an affair with Sabina, which leads to her request that he punish her much the same way that her own father did. As he spanks her, Sabina experiences sexual release, taking joy in the humiliation she allegedly fears.
It's that concept of fear that's more Freudian than anything - that which we fear is often that which we innately desire, our mind's own form of directing us toward exposure therapy. That which traumatizes us becomes that which we wish to relive because we've become emotionally attached to what harmed us; we seek comfort in the familiarity of trauma.
A Dangerous Method is one of Cronenberg's least loved films, but it's one that - when examined from a psychological and philosophical standpoint - serves as a sort of final thesis on his earlier work, a map to the psychology of his fictional characters, a key to understanding their behaviors. It's basic to anyone familiar with Freud and Jung's work, but Cronenberg transforms that simple cerebral drama into something unsettling. Repression is a recurring theme throughout his work; here it takes center stage with explicit focus.