“I have to tell you I don’t think in terms of theme at all,” Cronenberg tells me over the phone, right before my chest gets tight at the prospect of insulting one of this country’s most acclaimed talents. “Anyone telling this story would be dealing with those same things. When I’m making a movie, for me, creatively, it’s as if I’ve never made another movie.” Cronenberg is also quick to explain to me he isn’t trying to be evasive in his response. With that, my tension is relieved and we move on happily.
“In retrospect, I could say I always wanted to do something about Freud,” Cronenberg, 68, says, upon further reflection. “To say that isn’t really to say anything at all though because Freud is such a big topic.” And so, he just needed the right project to come along and he found that project in Christopher Hampton’s (DANGEROUS LIAISONS) stage play, "The Talking Cure". Cronenberg had heard his Spider star, Ralph Fiennes, was playing Jung on the London stage and, while he couldn’t attend, he did read the play and found the angle he had been looking for all this time.
“I thought it was very doable as a movie and it would be fascinating to approach it just the way Christopher had, which is to say very neutrally,” Cronenberg explains. Hampton’s play does not pick sides between Jung and Freud, played on film by Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, respectively, but rather allows the audience to take in their differing points of view and assess on their own where their allegiances lie. The play pits the two against each other by framing their relationship in context with another, that of a shared patient and one of the first female psychoanalysts, Sabina Spielrein, played with great fervor and bravery by Keira Knightley.
Fleshing out the stage version for the screen was easier than one would expect. “As they were both psychoanalysts, no detail went unnoticed. They were their own first subjects after all,” Cronenberg quips. So there was a plethora of information to draw to fill out the story but there was still some things that required a certain creative flair, namely most of the intense sexuality that happens behind closed doors. “There are some very intimate moments which are speculative, of course. There was still some modesty involved in these relationships because of the era.”
As impassioned as it gets onscreen, Cronenberg insists that the set itself, located in Vienna and in various German locations, could not have been more ideal. “It was as though, after one or two days, as if you’d worked with everybody many times before,” he recalls fondly. Of course, Cronenberg has actually worked with Mortensen before, most recently in 2007’s EASTERN PROMISES. While Christoph Waltz was originally due to play Freud, he had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts, and Mortensen stepped in. “With Viggo, I would say I have a long hand rather than a short hand,” Cronenberg describes of their working relationship. “We would exchange something like 25 e-mails about what kind of cigars Freud smoked and when.”
Cronenberg is currently in post-production on his 20th feature, COSMOPOLIS, based on the Don DeLillo novel and starring Robert Pattinson. First up though, he must contend with awards season, as A DANGEROUS METHOD is naturally garnering attention. Though happy with the acclaim, Cronenberg takes the arduous process in stride. “Awards season isn’t a real season; it’s not like fall or winter,” says the man whose first brush with Oscar came when his 1986 film, THE FLY, took home the statue for Best Visual Effects. “It can be very exhausting if you’re nominated so at a certain moment, part of you is almost praying you don’t get any nominations.”
Well, consider my fingers crossed for you, Mr. Cronenberg. Wait.