I sometimes have difficulty separating an artist from their art, although I’ve been able to accomplish it several times. Would I be able to do so when the artist in question was a President of the United States whose art included not only films, but policies that transformed the Republican Party, the American economy, and the course of the Cold War? Movie Nights with the Reagans by Mark Weinberg has arrived to pose this question.
Whatever your feelings about Reagan’s politics, and mine are by no means completely positive, this new book affirms any belief in the influence of film on society. It is written by Mark Weinberg, who in 1981, when the book begins, was serving as an assistant press secretary at the White House. He was one of the few staff members invited along on the Reagans’ weekends at Camp David, where there is a movie theater. In the privacy of the Aspen Lodge, the First Family and their guests sat in comfy chairs as popcorn was served in baskets, and watched contemporary and classic movies on Friday and Saturday nights, in good times (landslide re-election) and in bad (assassination attempts).
The book is organized mostly chronologically, with one chapter per film, beginning with the first weekend trip of Reagan’s presidency in February of 1981 (the film was 9 to 5) all the way up to 1987, including September of 1985, when the chosen film was Ronald and Nancy’s only one together, Hellcats of the Navy, which was also the last feature in which either Reagan appeared. The connections between the films and the memories in each chapter can be tenuous but are nonetheless fascinating. Weinberg was in a unique position of truly unparalled access, enabling him to now deliver an assortment of anecdotes; he seems to have been both an employee and a friend of both the Reagans, with a closeness verging on that of family.
Early in the 2012 documentary Low and Clear, one of the two main characters, J.T. Van Zandt, remarks, “the biggest mistake about fishing is that it’s about catching fish.” It would have been easy for the filmmakers to make this mistake themselves…fortunately they do not. Though it’s ostensibly about a fly fishing trip taken by J.T. and his friend Alex “Xenie” Hall, Low and Clear doesn’t really have much to do with fly fishing. Its stunning visuals pull you into a quiet, leisurely-paced meditation on the nature of friendship…how do people become friends, can they stay friends as their lives change, and if so, how?
J.T. and Xenie are almost completely different in personality and lifestyle. Fly fishing and love and respect for nature are the things they have in common, and they even differ in their approaches to that. Short-tempered Xenie lives to fish and arranges his life around it, while mellow J.T. has a more balanced life, with a fiancée, a job and a house. They met when J.T. was working in a fly fishing store and Xenie was the local legend. Their relationship has developed from teacher-student to one of mutual respect and fierce competition. They both at times interpret the other’s choices as a judgement on their own, and though they are important influences on each other, J.T. describes their relationship now as “combative.”
This dynamic comes to the fore on their trip. As J.T. also stated early on, when people are fishing, “personalities come out and you can’t hide it.” Xenie sticks to his tried-and-true methods and routine, obsessively photographing every fish he catches, while J.T. has decided to use the time to learn some new techniques and isn’t getting even a nibble. Xenie gloats and tries to give advice as J.T. becomes more and more frustrated yet refuses to budge. It’s clear that, like any other friends who’ve drifted apart, they’ve become separated in a million different little ways.
There’s no fighting, gunplay, special effects, or explosions. No one gets marooned in the Canadian wilderness. It’s just two guys talking about themselves and each other, and gorgeous photography by the directors Kahlil Hudson and Tyler Hughen. The Gulf Coast of Texas (J.T.’s home), Colorado (Xenie’s territory), and British Columbia (where they take their trip) never looked better. The film’s pace is slower than audiences are used to, but if you’re patient, you’ll get some food for thought on friendship and the meaning of life, and a reminder of the breathtaking beauty of the natural world.
Low and Clear is playing in the metro Detroit area on Tuesday, July 30 as part of Gathr’s preview series at the Maple Theater. You can win free series tickets by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and subject line “CMB.” Good luck!
After the series, the films will be available for Gathr’s Theatrical-On-Demand service, which allows moviegoers to request screenings of indie films at their local theater. For more information, visit the Gathr site.
This review contains spoilers. Just about every sentence is a spoiler!
I have to admit my expectations for Man of Steel were pretty high. And it did get pretty close. If I was giving out grades, it would get a B, maybe even a B+. But an over-reliance on explosions and effects for the IMAX/3D crowd unfortunately dilute the impact of an otherwise excellent movie.
Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams as Lois Lane. As I expected, Cavill expertly conveys the humility, goodness, and dry wit that work for this character. His American accent is perfect (and pretty neutral for Kansas…but this guy has worked all over the continent apparently). Let’s face it, it doesn’t hurt that he’s as handsome and almost incredibly fit as a Superman should be. Adams is convincing as a determined reporter who just can’t leave well enough alone. She isn’t sassy, just strong-willed. I liked that the character didn’t immediately go to pieces at her first sight of Superman…that’s not right for a hardboiled reporter, which is what Lois should be. These two have an easy chemistry that I’d like to have seen more of (more on that later).
In addition, I’m glad the writers found a rather clever way out of the conceit of Lois not knowing who Superman is, one that both strengthens the Lois character and furthers the plot. The idea that Superman’s identity is a secret to Lois was never believable to me — she’s a brilliant reporter and she can’t figure it out right away? Plus it’s always annoyed me that she didn’t recognize him supposedly because of his glasses, probably because I wear glasses myself. I think I basically look the same with or without them!
The casting. I think it’s excellent, from Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer as Clark’s birth parents, to Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as his adoptive ones, from Richard Schiff as the requisite scientist, to Christopher Meloni and the ever-reliable Harry Lennix as a military colonel and general respectively, it just works. Michael Shannon is an appropriately detestable Zod and parallel to Kal-El/Clark. And why didn’t it occur to anyone to cast Laurence Fishburne as a cranky newspaper editor before this? I really liked his take on Perry White. In addition, care was taken with the younger versions of Clark so that the actors playing the character at different ages actually look plausibly alike.
The structure of Superman’s back story. While the circumstances surrounding his birth kick the film off, much of Clark’s childhood is recounted in a series of flashbacks, which are triggered by seemingly ordinary occurrences in his life. While a couple of the people I saw this with were annoyed by it, I found it to be naturalistic and quite easy to follow.
Spot-on depiction of the severe ADD resulting from Superman’s powers. Sitting in a classroom at school, young Clark is bombarded with hundreds of stimuli, well-represented on film. Although I don’t have it nearly as bad, if you’ve ever wondered, that’s basically what it’s like.
The religious references. Superman is like Moses — a foundling, outcast from “normal” society — and he’s also like Jesus — Kal-El/Clark Kent was uniquely conceived, he is 33, he excels at turning the other cheek, and he sacrifices himself to save humanity. Also Jor-El (Crowe) becomes a computer-driven “ghost,” who believes Clark will be received as “a god.” All of this taps into elementary archetypes and helps to overcome the fact that we don’t really see enough motivation for Superman to save the people of Earth. Other than his parents, the only person who treats Clark with any shred of decency is a kid whose life he saves. So why should he bother? That’s why.
The not so good:
Cavill’s hair. I thought it was impossible to botch perfection but somehow they managed to goof up Henry’s look, at least part of the time. His hair style and color change from scene to scene and it became a distraction. This is very minor compared to…
Not enough interaction between the characters, and too much big multi-stage battle between Zod and Superman. The mass destruction of Metropolis goes on way too long, becoming tedious. This film has a handle on epic, particularly the flying scenes and big beautiful images, courtesy of director Zack Snyder and DP Amir Mokri. What interaction there is, worked well; I just wanted more of it. I wish there was a way to magically re-distribute some of the time spent on dismantling skyscrapers and put it into the characters’ relationships. It’s this unbalance that tips Man of Steel from excellent to pretty good.
It’s difficult not to feel bad for Don Johnston (Bill Murray), the protagonist in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (2005). Though he made a bunch of money a while back in something to do with computers and doesn’t need to work, he is almost completely alone, even when there are people around. We meet him as his girlfriend Sherry (Julie Delpy) is moving out of his dark, nearly empty, house. As she leaves, she sees his mail on the floor in the foyer, a pink envelope on the top of the stack. “Looks like you got a love letter from one of your other girlfriends,” she says, clearly disgusted. When Don opens the letter, he’s with his next-door neighbor and buddy Winston (Jeffrey Wright), and its contents are a shock.
Don reads that he has a son he doesn’t know about, born nearly 20 years before. This child is searching for Don and may find him. But who is the mother? The letter is unsigned, the postmark too faint to read, and apparently back in the day, Don lived up to the Don Juan characteristics implied in his name…there are quite a few women who could have written it. Amateur detective Winston begins a Sherlock-Holmes-style analysis of the stationery — it’s pink and flowery, and whoever wrote it used an old typewriter with a red ribbon. Don protests that the whole thing is a joke and he doesn’t want to know, but he is overwhelmingly lonely, and as Winston won’t let the mystery alone, Don is soon on a mission to revisit the possible moms. Trekking around the country to unspecified locations, he encounters his former girlfriends’ surprise, rage, indifference, and everything in between. Standouts along the way include Sharon Stone, Chloë Sevigny, the unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, and Alexis Dziena, as Stone’s character’s teenaged daughter, who has interesting fashion sense.
The film’s pace is leisurely but quietly captivating, as Jarmusch uses suspense-style compositions to create understated tension. He takes the advice “show, don’t tell” and applies in a straightforward style. Murray gives a convincing, melancholy performance, with only hints of the goofball we know is there. Don never says, “I’m lonely,” but we see his life contrasted with Winston and his wife Mona’s. Each ex is a fairly well-sketched person, with her own believable personality — all they seem to have in common is that they were blonde. We get to judge for ourselves whether or not they are telling the truth about their lives — Jarmusch doesn’t weigh in. “Look for clues,” Winston urges Don, referring to the typewriter and the pink flowers that will reveal the mother’s identity, but what Don is really looking for is the meaning of his life.
Another part of Broken Flowers‘ charm is its remarkable soundtrack. Where you might expect anguished folk-rock or confessional ballads, Jarmusch and music editor Jay Rabinowitz provide an eclectic mix of upbeat, sunny-sounding tunes. There are multiple tracks from both Ethiopian jazz composer Mulatu Astatke and British singer Holly Golightly, with and without the Greenhornes. What this all means for the moviegoer is an excellent if overlooked little gem of a film.
Recently tagged “most underappreciated film of 2012” by the Los Angeles Times, Bernie (2012) is based on the true story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), who befriended and eventually murdered an elderly woman, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), in Carthage, Texas.
In real life, Tiede befriended Nugent in 1990, shot her in 1996, was convicted in 1998, and is serving a life sentence. The case deeply divided the townspeople of Carthage. Danny Buck Davidson, the district attorney played by Matthew McConaughey in the film, told a local paper in 1998, “This town is split up.” Nugent’s son, Dr. Ron Nugent, maintains that Tiede drove her family away and that her side of the story has never been told. On the other hand, there is a blog, Free Bernie Tiede, which allows Bernie to communicate with his supporters, and in August 2012, the Dallas Morning News reported that, after seeing the film, an Austin attorney has taken an interest in Tiede’s case.
But Bernie isn’t really about all that. It’s actually a character study, the kind Hollywood doesn’t really produce all that much any more, and, in this world of big-budget special effects showcases, something as narrow in scope and as perfectly executed as Bernie is a welcome refreshment.
In the film, Bernie is much beloved by all of Carthage for his affable personality and tireless involvement in many civic and church activities. A mortician by trade, it is his habit to check up on the town’s widows, and someone as unpleasant as Mrs. Nugent, recently bereaved, needs a friend. The two soon become inseparable, but Mrs. Nugent is also more and more possessive of and verbally abusive toward Bernie, who can’t deal with any kind of negativity or drama. One night he snaps and shoots her. He then hides her body and continues as if she’s still alive…just very very sick. Having been given power of attorney, Bernie also spends her money, but only to help other people.
When Marjorie’s body is found, the music on the movie’s soundtrack is the only real indication of sadness. Nobody, including her family, really missed her spiteful ways, only her money. No one in town can quite believe Bernie capable of murder, anyway; a few even hassle the district attorney to “leave poor Bernie alone.”
Reality and fiction meld in this genre-defying film. Bernie is a seamless mix of documentary-style interviews with actual Carthage townsfolk interspersed with re-enactments and scenes from Bernie’s point of view, which use actors. It’s pretty clear whose side director Richard Linklater is on, but the story and its implications are only part of this film’s pull. The casting is perfect. Black excels as Bernie, making the character relatable and the oddity of the plot believable. MacLaine makes the most of her smaller role, displaying a steely-eyed malice and hinting at the grief behind the jealousy. However, the citizens of Carthage steal the show — they are a charming, funny bunch whose loyalty to Bernie is as endearing as it is stubborn.
The thing about Argo is that we already know how it ends. In 1980, CIA operative Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) managed to “ex-filtrate” the six Americans who escaped to the Canadian ambassador’s house when Iranian revolutionaries took over the US embassy in Tehran. But I forgot all about that, and judging from the reactions of others in the audience, so did everyone else. This film immerses you in suspense.
As I noted in one of my past posts, I liked the trailer for Argo, maybe because it reminded a bit of The Town, one of my favorite heist pictures ever, also directed by Affleck. The director doesn’t disappoint, ratcheting the tension up exponentially. It could have been a bit too tense, but Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio break the mood with some very funny moments at Hollywood’s expense. The lighter, satirical scenes with John Goodman and Alan Arkin in the movie capital do more than just relieve almost unbearable stress. These scenes – actually the whole movie – are a meditation on the nature of espionage, movies, and storytelling. It begins with a brief history of Iran and the causes of the 1980 revolution. Instead of the usual text on a blank background, or a newsreel-style montage, Argo‘s introduction is a series of animated story boards. Then, of course, there are the fake identities and backstories the diplomats take on to pull off their own rescue. If they can act convincingly enough, they’ll live. At the risk of saying too much, this film shows that the key to being a good spy and the key to making a good movie are one and the same — having the ability to tell to a good story.
PS: I highly recommend reading this excellent Entertainment Weekly interview with Affleck and Mendez if you haven’t already. Among other things, I found out that the Argo story is just one chapter in the CIA agent’s fascinating life. Hoping Hollywood will call on him again.
The Avengers is a very good film. If I had a rating system, I’d give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. Yes, it is that good. If you haven’t seen it, go now…I’ll go with you. Seriously. I don’t know if the world can stand one more person waxing eloquent about this movie, but I’m going to go for it anyway. Some thoughts…
Clark Gregg is like a different person when he’s playing Agent Coulson. His whole face tightens up.
I still say that if I was an actress, I would want Scarlett Johansson’s career…from child actress to indie darling to action movie star…this year it’s a big comic book franchise and a sci-fi picture, next year she’s in some indie directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. A versatile talent.
Playing the villain is always more fun, and that’s exactly what Tom Hiddleston looks like he’s having throughout the film. His Loki is also more proof that it helps to get Genuine Thespians for these comic-book action blowout extravaganzas. There’s a lot of talent here, including a bunch of Oscar nominees and winners, and they can make even the most potentially ludicrous lines sound good.
I’m throwing down the gauntlet…I’d put our Detroit shawarma (that is the correct spelling) up against any in the world. That’s right, the world.
One of the themes in Joss Whedon’s work is the mismatched, bickering team that, through hardship, becomes a family, and the Avengers are a perfect example of this. Their bipolar bickering and eventual unity really reminded me of the crew from Firefly. And it is greatly to Whedon’s credit that in a 2-1/2 hour movie (as opposed to an entire season of a TV show), each major character is a three-dimensional person I cared about. The regular-person-ization starts right away with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) chatting with Coulson (he’s not just a suit, he has a girlfriend…she plays the cello!) and doesn’t end until after the credits (stay until they kick you out). Let’s put it this way, the unexpected (at least by me) death in Avengers affected me as much as the one in Captain America did.
Captain America (Chris Evans) is my favorite Avenger. So sue me. If you’d been asleep for 70 years and woke up to find the world was completely changed, your girl was gone, and your favorite music/movies/food/cars/clothing had all been replaced by other stuff, you’d probably be pretty quiet too. Seriously…what do you think Captain America thinks of the sagging pants look?
I’ve only got two complaints overall about the film: With all the great lines Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) got, at times the film seemed like Iron Man 3. Not that RDJ doesn’t maximize them…I like him and the character…I guess I should have gotten a clue when I saw the poster. And second, the ending reminded me quite a bit of the ending of X Men: First Class. But these are minor complaints to me. Apparently there’s going to be 30 minutes of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray. That means there’s more awesomeness! I can’t wait to see.
So…what did you think of The Avengers? Leave me a comment.
Because there’s been so many reviews of The Hunger Games, I know there isn’t much I can say that hasn’t been said already, but I do have a few thoughts. NB: I haven’t read the books.POSSIBLE SPOILERS.
I really enjoyed this movie. While some of the suspense is negated by knowing that there’s 2 more books after this and the heroine will survive no matter how harrowing the circumstances, I was literally on the edge of my seat almost the entire time. I have to agree with my friends Ruth at Flix Chatter and T at Focused Filmographer that it deserves 4.5 out of 5 stars.
The actual Games themselves are horrifying and yet very familiar. The way they are presented in the film is pretty standard for reality TV. Just like American Idol, HG has a smarmy host, Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), a live audience, and ubiquitous promotion (does Panem TV show anything but HG?) The swooping shots of the riled-up crowd and the banter between the host and contestants are too much like AI and America’s Got Talentet al to be a coincidence. Once the Games begin, alliances are made and broken, like on Survivor. And like all reality shows, the Games’ storylines are set and the contest is manipulated for ratings — “They just want a good show” is the motto of Katniss’ mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). I believe we are closer than I realized to a society where a TV show like this is possible. I’ve often thought that it will be only a matter of time until somebody gets killed on a reality show, and from there, it seems like it’s not much of a leap for contestants killing each other to become a show’s main goal. I hope I’m wrong.
Another similarity is that of Panem and contemporary US society. Like those in the Capitol, some people in the US are doing extremely well, and proportionately more people are much worse off, like those in District 12. (Much like the denizens of the Firefly universe were caught in the 1800s, only with more technology, D12 seems to have rewound to the Great Depression and gotten stuck there.) In the US in 2012, the gap between rich and poor is widening and coal mining accidents, like the one that killed Katniss’ father, are still happening. So it seems to me that Panem’s situation isn’t really all that different from ours.
Squirrel tastes like chicken. In case you were wondering.
Sometimes supporting players really put a film over the top. There’s no way I’d have given this picture as high of a rating without the fabulous work done by Tucci, Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Lenny Kravitz.
Can anyone do an action or fight scene these days without dizzying close-ups and jittery handheld-style camerawork? That’s kind of a dumb question….the answer is obviously not! But I think it’s an appropriate choice for The Hunger Games, most of the time. It accurately conveys the disorientation of a teenager fighting for his or her life. The one exception where I thought it was completely bewildering was the fight scene atop the Cornucopia near the end. That was so fragmented that it was difficult to tell what was really going on for too long.
I see a similarity between Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander, and Peppy Miller, and I hope that it’s a trend brewing. Not just that I enjoyed all of these characters’ films, although that is true. All of them are independent and resourceful women, and all of them save others’ lives. What people see in films and TV and read in books has an effect on their real-life expectations, and so I believe a variety of female characters—not just the passive/reactive ones— is a good thing.
Leave me your thoughts about The Hunger Games below.
EDIT: I want to make it clear…I WATCH REALITY TV. Seriously, I do. If there’s any judgement, it’s on myself as well.
I seem to be perpetually short on time so I thought I’d make a nice list instead of those long, drawn-out posts I like so much 😉
I really liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (4 out of 5 stars). I usually like espionage movies, and of course there is the cast (some of whom are wearing some pretty great suits). Even if just any two of these guys was in it, I’d have gone, plus I am no longer ignorant of Benedict Cumberbatch. (Don’t judge the gaps in my knowledge! OK, go ahead…but at least leave a comment.) There isn’t a lot of shoot-’em-up behavior, but it is suspenseful nonetheless, especially if you get nervous when spies are spying on each other. Shoot-’em-up is fine too, though. This Means War? I’m so there.
I really liked Shame, but in a different way (4.5 out of 5 stars). It’s nearly perfect in itself but I don’t think I could see it again. I found it as depressing as I thought it would be from reading the script, although a lot of stuff in the version I read didn’t make it into the finished film. There’s no question that Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan deserved Oscar nominations. Both actors suggested so much in a non-showy way, without much dialogue, and I believe those performances are actually what kept Academy voters away (in addition to the subject matter). I’d have given it 5 stars if there had been just a little bit more backstory about Brandon and Sissy. What is the significance of “New York, New York?” Why is Brandon obsessed with the Standard Hotel? You know that cool girl in your high school that wore vintage years before it was cool and always looked fabulous? That’s Sissy…but what happened to her after that? You won’t find out in this interview Fassbender did on Canadian TV show The Hour but I’m throwing it in here because it’s pretty interesting.
I really liked The Mill and The Cross (4 out of 5 stars). I wish there was a movie like this for every painting. It’s difficult to describe it. Again…not a lot of dialogue. It basically shows Brueghel’s (Rutger Hauer) inspiration for each figure and situation in the work. It’s a meditation on the creative process, a record of the human condition in Flanders in the 16th century (hint: lousy), an invective on humanity’s inhumanity, and a powerful statement in favor of the separation of church and state. If you get a chance to see this on the big screen, definitely go. Much will be lost on even the biggest home TV.
I loved The Artist (5 out of 5 stars), it’s just brilliant. It’s also laden with homages and tributes to Old Hollywood and the early 20th-century silents — a feast for classic movie fans. Still working on a larger post on this theme.
This month I also decided there should be ejector seats in cinemas (5 out of 5 stars). People who are talking/yelling, chomping loudly on gum, crinkling candy wrappers, talking on a cell phone, texting, tweeting or IMing can be removed in a speedy and efficient manner. Alternatively, should ejector seats prove too costly, perhaps two auditoriums can show the movie at the same time — talkers in one, silent types in the other. I’m kidding…sort of 😉 The stillness of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Mill and The Cross was almost wrecked. That was my non-classic moviegoing month of January 2012, how was yours?
I was a bit reluctant to see A Dangerous Method. Carl Jung’s ideas about the collective unconscious, synchronicity, archetypes, and the anima/animus were revolutionary at the time and still make a lot of sense to me. If you’ve ever taken a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, that’s based on Jung’s concept of extroverted vs. introverted personalities. But the trailer sort of made it seem like I was going to have to title this review “Carl Jung Did More Than Feud with Freud and Sleep with His Patients.” Though Jung did have differences (and a messy breakup) with his onetime mentor Sigmund Freud, and at least two extra-marital relationships, there is so much more to the life and work of one of the 20th century’s greatest minds. And thankfully, A Dangerous Method is a better film than its trailer.
It is true, Jung was unique in his time for his emphasis of feminine consciousness, and he had many female patients, students, and colleagues, many of whom worked closely with him when they became analysts and/or researchers in their own right, well before women were the norm in the field. Method is about the relationships between Jung (Michael Fassbender); a woman who was all of the above plus Jung’s mistress, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley); and both of their relationships, a kind of intellectual triangle, with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Also in the mix are a couple of polar opposites —Emma, Jung’s rather uptight wife (Sara Gadon), who knows all, and Otto Gross, a libertine student of Freud’s (Vincent Cassel), who avoids repression of any urge.
Sabina Spielrein was the first patient Jung attempted to cure with Freud’s “talking cure,” the basis of modern psychoanalysis. The danger of this method is transference, in which the patient transfers their feelings, often romantic or erotic feelings, to the therapist. The film opens as she’s in the midst of a nervous breakdown, being admitted to the Burghölzli, a psychiatric hospital at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, where Jung is assistant director. She’s volatile and disturbed, but she’s smart and educated, not to mention beautiful, and she responds well. Because her stated ambition is to become a doctor, she is soon helping Jung with his research, while he’s still treating her. She is admitted to a university and they work together. Eventually, Jung and Speilrein become lovers.
At the beginning of the film, Jung and Freud haven’t yet met. When they do, they have a 17-hour conversation and Jung is deemed heir apparent to Freud. “I’ve simply opened a door,” Freud tells Jung. “It’s for the young men like yourself to walk through it.” But as their collaboration continues, it seems like Freud would rather slam the door shut than let Jung take over. Freud thinks all neurosis has a sexual cause, and Jung believes that there are other factors, including spirituality and individual personality. Freud, almost 20 years older and set in his ways, is more and more reluctant to hear the younger man’s ideas. We see the authoritarian, almost tyrannical, side of him, and the cold and ruthless streak in Jung. Spielrein is caught in the middle — her love is with Jung but her mind takes her nearer to Freud.
The acting is uniformly great. Fassbender and Mortenson are excellent of course. Gadon is appropriately controlled. Cassel has an interesting cameo as Gross, who sets the stage for Jung and Spielrein’s relationship. Gross seems like a representation of Jung’s desires; we never see him talking to anyone else and he says so many things that Jung wants to hear.
But the real surprise to me was Keira Knightley. She shows you Sabina’s struggle, intelligence, and persistence. Even when she’s in full breakdown mode, she manages to suggest that there’s something more there, whatever it was that allowed a mental patient to become an analyst herself. I even liked her accent. I figure that’s what a Russian immigrant in Switzerland would sound like. I thought she deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination but with the field so crowded with excellent performances, I knew it was a long shot.
Jung’s ideas are fairly abstract but the movie does a good, if somewhat sensationalized, job of explaining both his and Freud’s ideas. Christopher Hampton wrote the screenplay, an adaptation of his own play The Talking Cure, sometimes using Jung’s and Freud’s exact words. The language is beautiful and delivered well, be it smooth, violent, or repressed. Ultimately the film is beautifully shot but never fully sheds its stage-play origins. That’s a small price to pay though, when you’re witnessing a revolution.
PS: If anybody wants to read up on Jung, I highly recommend Introducing Jung written by Maggie Hyde and illustrated by Michael McGuinness. It’s like a comic book and it really explains things in an effective and painless way.