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Retrospective: The Films Of David Cronenberg

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist November 22, 2011 at 11:50AM

It’s been a long journey to “respectability” for David Cronenberg. In the early days of his career, the helmer was a favorite of the Fangoria crowd, crafting genre entertainment that relied heavily on nightmarish prosthetics to sugar (or rather, gore) -coat the elemental, sometimes philosophical ideas he was preoccupied with. Many of these ideas are captured succinctly in early-year masterpiece “Videodrome”: we are but slaves to our outer sheaths, mutation is the only real evolution and matters of the heart are merely an illusion, while the mind's fragility and propensity to conflate reality with dreams or hallucinations will always make it ultimately subservient to the desires of the flesh. Pit logic against the darker recesses of human nature, he suggests, and logic, control and intellectualism will always fail.
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Eastern Promises

"Eastern Promises" (2007)
After tentatively stepping into mainstream territory with "A History of Violence," Cronenberg consolidated that move with the again-almost-straightforward crime thriller "Eastern Promises." What's perhaps surprising is how successful the film is on its own terms. While some of the director's trademark concerns are in evidence (bodies, and their mutilation, still fascinate, be it through tattoos, the stubbing of a cigarette on a tongue, the dispassionate dissection of a corpse or the roiling, writhing, inordinately fleshy, naked fight in the steam room), here they are relegated to character background or incidental action; they don't inform the main thrust of the plot. Instead we get an engrossing, well-researched, low-key mafia movie, only here the city is London and the Mafia is Russian. And in Naomi Watts' midwife, dogged in her mission to solve the mystery of a young girl who died in her care, we are given possibly the first Cronenberg protagonist since "The Dead Zone"'s Christopher Walken who we are actively encouraged to like. But it's Mortensen who steals the show (though Armin Mueller-Stahl and Vincent Cassel both give him a run for his money). His Nikolai is a mass of contradictions and moral conundrums, marshaled into a conflicted but frighteningly disciplined killer: it's a character we're happy we're going to see more of, if the mooted sequel happens. Yes, there are those who lament the evolution of the Cronenberg movie from the cerebral schlock of yesteryear to the brainy accessibility of today, but on this evidence, we're happy to follow him wherever he leads. [A-]

A Dangerous Method Retrospective

A Dangerous Method” (2011)
So somewhere along the way, the David Cronenberg of earlier years, while pursuing his pet ideas and concepts, and in the process producing often-unforgettable genre classics, became a truly dynamic storyteller, something that critics often overlook. In "A Dangerous Method," he employs all of that flair, twisting and tweaking the structure of this curious psychodrama in ways no other director would approach. As a result, Cronenberg excels in depicting the professional tensions between Carl Jung and his mentor Sigmund Freud, and Jung's own flirtation with student/patient Sabina Spielrein. He juxtaposes the straight-laced nervousness of Jung, the cigar-chewing (natch) boldness of Freud and the bedroom dysfunction of the genuinely tortured Spielrien. But he's also having a wry laugh at the proceedings, depicting Freud as a psychological bully who treats everyone as his test subjects, and Jung as the whimsical genius who starts to credit his own mind-powers almost as a reflexive response to Freud's subtle bullying. "A Dangerous Method" has divided Cronenberg fans precisely because of this formal playfulness, vacilating between the dry routine of men in suits in smoking rooms and the twisted kink of a wooden rod against Keira Knightley's attractive backside. But "A Dangerous Method" is more a synthesis of Cronenberg the mature storyteller and Cronenberg the horror maestro than its period trappings might suggest: once again, he is exploring the horrors of the body (Jung is almost repulsed by his own longings) in a way both subtle and perversely overt. Whether that synthesis spices up a conventional, talky period drama, or simply renders the film less successful as a period drama, is a debate that rages on. [B+]

-- Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor, Rodrigo Perez, Sam Price, Erik McLanahan, Jessica Kiang, Sam Chater, 

This article is related to: The Essentials, David Cronenberg, Features


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