There's still no one else quite like David Cronenberg: mordantly funny, deeply intelligent, defiantly Canadian and unapologetically intellectual. The director's four-decades body of work has spanned genres and provoked endless debate. His latest, A Dangerous Method, detailing the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in the early years of psychoanalysis, opens this week in Kansas City. The Pitch spoke with Cronenberg at the 2011 New York Film Festival.
The Pitch: How did you come to this project?
Cronenberg: In retrospect, I had always wanted to do something about Freud and the birth of psychoanalysis. ... What I saw in [screenwriter] Christopher Hampton's play [The Talking Cure, first staged in 2002] was this fantastic structure that beautifully distilled the essence of the era and the psychoanalytic movement into, primarily, five characters. And that got me very excited.
How did you adjust the play and contributing texts to arrive at the film?
My feeling with the play was that it was very neutral. Certainly I approached it that way. For me, making the movie was a process of resurrection. I really wanted these people to come back to life. I wanted to hear them and feel them and smell them. I wanted to resurrect that era because it was so fascinating and really a crucial one: Vienna was the seat of the Austro-Hungarian empire that lasted 700 years. They had an 80-year-old emperor who they felt would live forever. They felt that man was evolving beautifully from animal to angel, that reason would conquer all, that everyone would know their place in society. But it was on the eve of the First World War, which blew all of that to pieces, that whole idea of European super-civilization.
Some have said that this film is atypical of your body of work.
I don't really think about my other movies at all, frankly. I don't think about whether this fits in with anything or whether I've done it or not, once I get excited about it. My hinge into this universe is — as I think Freud did — to believe in the absolute reality of the human body. To me, that is our reality. And Freud was insisting on it at a time when people were trying to deny that. Abstract ideas were everything, and Freud was talking about penises and vaginas and excrement and anuses and things that no one wanted to talk about or even acknowledge the existence of, and he was saying a lot of those things have huge repercussions in our adult life and in our society.