Has David Cronenberg mellowed?
The so-called “King of Venereal Horror,” renowned (and, in some circles, feared) for his unflinching explorations of humanity at its most grotesque — in offbeat classics like “Scanners,” “The Fly” and “Dead Ringers” — unveils his most accessible drama to date with “A Dangerous Method,” opening Friday.
A spirited account of the doomed friendship of psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, adapted from Christopher Hampton’s play “The Talking Cure,” “Method” features none of the mutated, mutilated or otherwise deformed flesh Cronenberg toyed with in past experiments. Even on a psychological level it is far tamer than “Crash,” his 1997 story of sexual fetishists aroused by car accidents.
Yet “Method” is hardly a departure for Cronenberg. His fascination with the bizarre possibilities of the human body and mind is as boundless as his respect for Freud, whose strictly scientific approach to his craft reflected none of Jung’s penchant for spiritual mysticism.
The director — not just an atheist, but “a total nonbeliever” — makes no secret of his preference for the more disciplined Austrian.
“To create the movement he founded, in the midst of the anti-Semitism that existed in his day and the desire to sweep things under the surface, Freud had to be a man of great courage and forcefulness,” says Cronenberg, 68. “He talked about penises, vaginas, excrement and incest. People didn’t want to hear about that. He lived in a very repressive era, and he was considered dangerous.”
Perhaps modestly, he discourages the suggestion that Freud might be a kindred spirit. But consider the similarities. In their respective professions, both rose to prominence by challenging convention, confronting subjects most peers considered taboo. (Martin Scorsese — who, Cronenberg likes to point out, directed “Taxi Driver” — was initially scared to meet his Canadian colleague.)
Then there’s the mutual fascination with dreams. Freud treated them as a window into the soul, and drew coherent insights from them. Cronenberg creates them.
“I’ve always thought movies functioned on the level of dream logic,” he says. “Even a movie that purports to be a documentary or a very factual account — about, say, the gritty streets of Boston — it’s still a dream. You’re not in Boston, and even if you are, you’re not on the streets, you’re in a theater.
“If they did MRI scans of your brain while you’re watching a movie, I wouldn’t be surprised if the results were consistent with dream activity, when you’re really plugged in. Because making movies is the creation of fantasy. That’s what I strive to make.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Sarah Gadon, Keira Knightley
Written by Christopher Hampton
Directed by David Cronenberg
Running time 1 hour 39 minutes