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A Dangerous Method: The Birth Of Psychoanalysis
This is a film chronicling the relationship between the two titans of psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud (Mortenson) and Carl Jung (Fassbender), and the woman that brought them together – Sabina Spielrein (Knightley).
Jung has just started putting Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis to the test, theories that even Freud hasn’t tested yet, when a patient by the name of Sabina Spielrein comes his way. Under his care, she’s able to get over the sexual and psychological scars inflicted on her by her father’s beatings. As a guinea pig, it’s her case that brings Jung and Freud together and gradually this reverent student/mentor relationship starts to sour. Jung wants to open up the field and explore more metaphysical aspects while Freud clings to its core beliefs in an effort to have this fledgling science taken seriously. Their relationship is tested even more when Jung starts an affair with Spielrein, who is now studying psychoanalysis and is showing great promise; favouring Freud’s ideas over Jung’s.
Acting wise, the film takes a while to hit its stride. Keira Knightley is rather difficult to recognize, disguised by her hunched posture, gloriously weird facial tics and bugging eyes. The things she does with her face are rather formidable and quite scary. Her character calms down considerably though after Jung treats her and she relaxes into being a less neurotic character and a highly respected psychoanalyst in her own right. She’s the most exciting thing about the film and the only character with an aura of unpredictability around her.
Freud and Jung in contrast are stodgy and stiff, though Mortenson and Fassbender do a great job of showing the dynamics of their relationship and the curve that it takes. Their relationship starts off with a star-struck Jung reaching out to Freud; Jung soon becomes Freud’s star pupil who then rebels when he starts to feel confined by Freud’s lack of imagination. It’s a classic rebellion-against-authority subplot but instead of emphasizing the split in their relationship, the film chooses to showcase the hurt and abandonment that they both feel as a result.
The film was adapted from a play that was initially based on a book and its theatre background is rather evident. The film has a static feel to it partly because it’s heavy on the dialogue but also because of the camera work. It feels weighted, there isn’t much movement to it and the score is quite sparse and doesn’t inject much life into the proceedings either.
More a romance and study of power than a history of psychoanalysis, the film manages to be reasonably entertaining and very well acted, though psychology buffs will probably find themselves wishing for more substance to the storyline.
She wakes up from her coma to a husband who she doesn’t remember and parents who are overjoyed that she’s forgotten about their dispute. While Paige’s parents try to bring her back to the way of life that she’d rebelled against, Leo tries to help her remember why she’d left all that behind in the first place. Fighting for a wife who doesn’t remember him and is a completely different person than the one he knew, Leo tries to get her to fall in love with him again.
The film rarely gets unbearably cheesy, setting it apart from your run of the mill Sparks adaptation. It gets mushy, emotional and sappy, but it’s more likely to make you smile than roll your eyes. Leo’s pain and heartbreak combined with Paige’s family’s delight at having their daughter back, gives the film a level of grit that keeps it from becoming overly cloying. However, the secret of the film’s success is the leads, who have great chemistry and manage to pass off some of the cheesiness as bearable.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the man behind cinematic gems like Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Master is unquestionably one of the director’s most dazzling and mesmerising visual compositions to date.
The narrative is centred on Freddie Quell (Phoenix); an emotionally and mentally disturbed WWII naval veteran who is having difficulty adjusting to post-war life. After spending some time in a veteran's hospital, being treated for what appears to be a posttraumatic stress disorder, Freddie is released into the wild. Not really knowing his place in the world, he moves from one tedious job to another; alcoholism and his violent and volatile outbursts – which erupt at the slightest provocation – get the better of him and holding onto a job and finding peace of mind eludes him.
One night, on a scavenge for more booze, Freddie sneaks onboard a party boat. After awakening from a drunken coma, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman); an unconventional and alluring man who claims to be a doctor, philosopher, physicist and, above all, ‘a man’. A man who alongside his devoted wife, Peggy (Adams), has fathered semi-religious organisation, 'The Cause'. Built on radical concepts of rigorous mental analysis, the movement aims to discover some kind of a deeper truth about the origin of human beings. Dodd preaches that everyone is capable of abolishing their 'animalistic' ways and only by reconstructing themselves back into 'perfect human specimens' will they be able to live a free and a fulfilled life. Taking an instant liking to Freddie, and his unsound mental state, Dodd takes him under his wing and Freddie soon becomes the 'pet' project for the self proclaimed 'master'.
It's been a long time since a film this engrossing and captivating has found its way onto the silver screen. Working on multiple levels and focusing primarily on the dynamic between Freddie and Dodd, The Master demands unwavering attention. Each layer of the plot holds its own meaning and subtle metaphors; ones that pose a lot of unanswered questions – it leaves it up to the viewer to digest.
Shot entirely in the rarely used 65mm format, Anderson, alongside cinematographer, Robert Elswit, really pushes the envelope, visually; the dreamlike water scenes and the impeccable portrayal of the 1950's come to life and contribute to the aura of the film.
The towering performances from both of its leads are something special; Phoenix in particular, hangs in limbo, between sanity and partial madness, and delivers a performance of a lifetime. From the slouchy posture to the sunken eyes, he's never looked more haunting. The same can be said for the ever-charming Hoffman, whose portrayal of the enigmatic leader is just as electric, while Adams' quiet presence is eerie and captivating at the same time, as the dutiful wife.
The Master possesses a presence that can't be denied and if you don't 'get it' from the first viewing, its okay, give it another try – it will get you. There is no escaping its hypnotic charm.