In a recent David Cronenberg’s film A Dangerous method Keira Knightley portrays a rich Russian Jewish girl receiving a treatment at a mental health clinic in Switzerland. Her doctor is Carl Jung, a rising star of psychoanalysis, with whom she (Sabina Spielrein is her name) allegedly had an affair. Keira Knighley has done a great job in showing us the recovering, neurotic and later love-struck heroine and in crafting the Russian accent and the detailed gestures. Viggo Mortensen as Freud is also impeccable; and Michael Fassbender is also solid in Carl Jung’s shoes.
The film doesn’t waste time on introductions and starts with showing us the relationship between the main characters, and eventually we learn who the doctor and his patient are.
There are some complex ideas are communicated in the film. They do not come across as info-dumps but are rather blended within the story. How is it achieved?
The screenwriter linked these ideas with the characters’ thoughts, emotions and experiences. So, the ideas are made personal, and since we are already invested into characters we are keen to listen.
When Sabina and Carl talk about psychology of love, even in abstract ways, we see the context and subtext of these conversations. These characters are both in love with each other, but Carl is afraid that his secret affair could damage his professional reputation and ruin his family life.
Another example is the relationship between Jung and Freud. Jung describes his dreams to Freud, which Freud interprets according to his sex-centered theories. Jung disagrees with Freud’s approach, and through their discussions we observe first a rising tension and then an open conflict between the two. We wouldn’t be interested in this psychological polemic if it wasn’t rooted in the characters’ lives.
So, I noticed two literary rules that have been successfully used in the film:
- Film scenes don’t contain unnecessary and low-tension introductions
- Facts and ideas are not simply told to us but are communicated through characters’ actions, emotions and arguments.
Have you seen a film that gave a good tip for writing? Or a film, which you thought wasn’t great because one or two of the fiction principles were ignored? Share it with others.