One of our forthcoming posts will be a review of the BAFTA and BFI Screenwriter Lectures series. The organizers compiled a program of highly esteemed screenwriters, including Charlie Kaufman and Guillermo Arriaga, who provided insight into their craft of screenwriting. The ‘star’ of ‘Being John Malkovich’ was Kaufman’s original, imaginative and absurd script, as was Arriaga’s ‘Amores Perros’ non-linear script with lengthy, moving dialogues. The screenwriters received a lot of accolades and awards for their screenplays.
These days, though, it seems that studios are hesitant to green light a movie that is driven by lengthy dialogue as the director of ‘A Dangerous Method’, David Cronenberg, experienced. He explained at the press conference of the film at the London Film Festival that the main problem with financing the film was because there was a lot of ‘talk’, which in the studios mind’s equates to being ‘intellectual’. The Canadian director thinks that in itself is a problem in terms of getting the film financed.
‘A Dangerous Method’ deals with the birth of psychoanalysis and the complex triangular relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and Jung’s patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who comes between the two psychiatrists.
Christopher Hampton wrote the screenplay for the film adapted on his own stage play ‘The Talking Cure’, which was based on John Kerr’s novel ‘A Most Dangerous Method’. Hampton, renowned for his screenplay of Stephen Frears’s version of ‘Dangerous Liasons’ (Hampton obviously has experience of writing complex triangular relationships), wrote an intelligent script with eloquent and witty dialogue between the lead characters. The exchange of words between Freud and Jung and Jung and Sabina are armongst the most memorable scenes of the film.
It is curious that a lot of dialogue in feature films is regarded as ‘intelligent’. Does the film industry think the medium of feature film is only suitable for one-liners? Is the white screen only suited for escapism and not to mentally stimulate people anymore? Thanks to networks like HBO and NBC the most exciting screenwriting these days is not happening in movies, but in Television Series, with the writing for ‘The Wire’ and ‘The West Wing’ being the benchmark.
‘A Dangerous Method’ is Cronenberg first film based on historically renowned characters. It’s not the first period piece he has undertaken but he has never previous dealt with iconic figures as, in this case, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in his films before. The director enjoyed the research aspect into the characters and part of the excitement, for him, of making the film was to return the characters, in an honourable fashion, to life on the screen.
With the film, Cronenberg wanted to bring an appreciation of how the psycho-analytic movement has found its way into the mind of the twentieth century. He believes that anyone growing up in twentieth century has had their mentality shaped by Freud and his understanding of psychology. The use of terms in our everyday language such as ‘Oedipus complex’, ‘Freudian Slip’ illustrate to Cronenberg how influential a mind, a man or a movement can be.
200% spoke briefly with Cronenberg and asked him if he believes that human beings are essentially sexual, violent creatures hiding within a thin coating of civilized behaviour?
David Cronenberg: That certainly was Freud’s understanding. In the era with which the movie deals [beginning of the twentieth century], there had been the Austro-Hungarian empire – a stable period. Everyone felt that man was evolving nicely from animal to angel and that reason and rationality could conquer everything and solve every problem. Then you had Freud coming and saying “not so fast”, there are things under the surface to which you really should pay attention as they are things that can erupt into tribal violence, barbarity and madness, and these things need to be acknowledged because they can destroy you. The First World War just vindicated Freud’s attitude. It’s hard for us to realize now as many years have passed, there have been so many wars, so people are rather cynical. At the time, though, it was pretty shattering that the idealistic idea of a super European civilization was destroyed so easily and did descend into that tribal barbarism. That was really shocking to numurous intellectuals of all kinds who really felt that man was making progress.
If you ask me if I believe that [human beings are essentially sexual violent creatures], well obviously we have evidence of that everyday. When I walk down a street that is very civilized and congenial, at the same time you have in your head, through the media, all the disasters that are going on everywhere in the world. It seems like a miraculous thing that we could be sitting all us here [at this press conference] and not be violent and barbarous.
Written by Thierry Somers, picture: HanWay Films
‘A Dangerous Method’, in cinema 10th February 2012