That's not him, obviously. That's Keira Knightley, in A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg's new film, and below the fold are Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen as Jung and Freud.
The interview, which I've edited from the transcript more minimally than I might have under other circumstances, was meant to appear in the discontinued Nomad edition, Wide Screen. Its loss is your gain! My review of A Dangerous Method for MSN Movies is here. Some prior thoughts on the film based on my New York Film Festival look at it are here. The interview follows. I have deleted our greeting pleasantries.
KENNY: I saw the film a couple of times, and I saw your press conference with Michael Fassbender at Lincoln Center. And you said during the press conference that when you're making a film that you never or rarely if at all think about stuff you've done before, themes relative to things you've done before, but sometimes that's the critic's job to do that. And I was thinking relative to a few things that this film reminded me—there's a scene in the film where Keira's character is receiving the treatment and she's breaking down a bit with Michael's Jung and she talks about how she's vile and she needs to be put away and never allowed to be let out. And that and a few other things reminded me, many things that the film's theme is partially about, the threat of a woman's sexuality. And it reminded me a little bit of Rabid. And because her presence in is so disruptive, in a way, to the world of Jung and Freud and I was wondering if I might be on to something and if you'd elaborate on it, if so.
CRONENBERG: Sure. Well, once again, I mean quite apart from Rabid or any connections it had, it was absolutely of the essence of psychoanalysis. How sexuality in general is disruptive. And certainly one of Freud's revolutions was to give full acknowledgement to a woman's sexuality. Freud has been criticized by feminists at some points for his patriarchal elements and so on. But in fact, it can't be denied that he was one of the first—especially in that era, where women were revered as goddesses but were therefore not supposed to have sexuality or intellect—one of the first to give full voice to both women's intellect and sexuality. And that's one of the reasons why Freud was considered subversive and disruptive and dangerous. It was not just because of sex but also because of female sex. There's no question about it. And here was—you have in that scene that you're talking about—and that's a real quote from Sabina. That's accurate reporting, she did say those things in her diary. She…the whole idea that a woman should suddenly be asked for the first time to talk about these things, that was the talking cure. It sounds innocuous to say it's the talking cure, but nobody wanted to hear what these crazy people had to say, until Freud said, no, no, you should listen to the crazy people because they are telling you what's going on. They're telling you how to heal them, telling you what's wrong with them. And of course in Sabina's case, for a young woman to be talking about being sexually aroused by her father's beatings was completely unacceptable and completely, you know, just intolerable. And suddenly for the first time she has a man who she doesn't know giving her permission to talk about those things. And with the concomitant sort of pain and trying to say the things and then trying not to say the things. So yeah, I mean I think whether it connects—the various things that are disruptive forces, whether it's sexuality or other things, sure, of course they're of interest to—well, to me I think they're of interest to any dramatist really. Sex and death. I'm not the first. I can't claim to be the first to deal with them.
KENNY: Well, that's another interesting thing, because when we're talking…well, there were three things, themes that I thought about. Another being, this is also a film in a sense that's about the creation of the language that we use when we talk about what we talk about and when we talk about the themes of your films.
CRONENBERG: Well, it's also…it's really in a sense; and certainly John Kerr in his book, A Most Dangerous Method, said it this way: that these three people, in a way, invented the 20th century. They invented modernity. Up until this point, talking about those things, in that way, was unprecedented. You would never have men of the professional dignity and stature of Freud and Jung exchanging the letters that we have, that they did, talking about bodily fluids and orifices, erotic dreams and stuff. The stuff that people talk about all the time now, and you can see on anybody's blog. But it was unthinkable for people to talk about that stuff, especially, as I say, professional people. And then you had Sabina giving voice to the woman's version of that. And she was absolutely their intellectual equal. And they accepted her as that as well without condescension. Really, all of that was quite extraordinary, and was quite new.
KENNY: And one more thing that I think relates to some of your prior work is the theme that comes in a little later after the break between Freud and Jung, and it's in the conversation between--it's most prominent in the conversation between Freud and Sabina, and then of course in the title cards that tell you the fates of the respective protagonists, is the theme of the Jew, and the Jew as other, which is very close to something you explored most explicitly recently in the short film you made for Cannes, for the “Chacun son cinema” section in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the festival, a short called At The Suicide of The Last Jew In The World In The Last Cinema In The World.
CRONENBERG: That's quite true. It was absolutely also of the essence. I mean Freud was acutely aware of the position of Jewishness and Jews in Austria; he couldn't avoid it. At the time Jews were accepted in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but they had limited roles to play. They were not allowed to be in the military, they were not allowed to be in government. And he was very aware that psychoanalysis could be dismissed as Jewish mysticism, or some kind of Jewish charade or trick, or something. Which is why he was very straightforwardly desperate to get Jung to be the leader of psychoanalysis in the future, because Jung was a good bourgeois Protestant Swiss German. It would take the curse of Jewishness off the movement. And that was absolutely one of the attractions for Freud of Jung.
KENNY: Have you—in terms of this theme of Jew-as-other, being something you've been exploring more recently; is there a story behind that, or is this something that you may have been exploring in more implicit ways throughout your career, or--
CRONENBERG: No. No. I certainly have friends who as they get older, suddenly become Orthodox when they were not, prior to that, very interested in being Jewish. Is that what you're talking about?