In a film about psychiatry, Freud and Jung are surprisingly the least interesting characters. This wordy and long winded drama fails to engage the audience emotionally, with an atmosphere as cold and scientific as the calculating psychologists involved.
Despite her accent being a little distracting, Knightley’s performance is impressive. Cronenberg seems to have made a conscious decision to attempt to alienate her from the audience by allowing her to use a Russian accent, whilst Mortensen, Fassbender and Cassel all speak with an English accent. In spite of this, her isolation as a very human, female Russian Jew makes her character infinitely more endearing than the male leads.
The costume choices for the movie are also interesting, as throughout the film, all of them men appear in black suits whilst the women generally wear white, creating a distinct divide. White is used ironically as a symbol of purity, when Knightley’s character is anything but: her mental state is complex and corrupted by masochistic desires, making her ambiguous and interesting.
The sex scenes between Fassbender and Knightley feel loveless and cold, yet this works well within a story which associates sex with scientific investigation. Fassbender, an attractive guy, is utterly de-sexualised by his glasses and moustache, but again, this contributes well to the tone and message of the film.
What do not work well are the drawn out exchanges between Fassbender and Mortensen; both the endless letters and dull conversations. These scenes, seemingly the crux of the narrative, fail to elicit the interest which the scenes involving Knightley or Jung’s wife, played by Sarah Gadon produce. These discussions are slow and laboured, despite the undeniable acting talent of both men, and thus are very disappointing.
Cronenberg’s film is ultimately disappointing: given the thought-provoking subject matter, this could have been a masterpiece.