Thursday, 28 June 2012



Movies about psychiatry are like red buses: you wait for years and then two show up within months of each other. Earlier this year we had David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, a dry and humourless look at the birth of psychoanalysis in which eminent doctors speculated at length upon disorders of the mind. Either by chance or design, we now have a DVD release for John Huston's 1962 film dramatisation of the key years in Sigmund Freud's career as he formulates those theories via hypnosis, dream analysis and regression.

Freud (also known as Freud: The Secret Passion) stars Montgomery Clift as Sigmund: starting out trying to cure hysteria by purely physical and not psychological means, seeing how hypnosis can relieve (or initiate) unconscious behaviour and seeking to uncover how this and other techniques could be employed to cure people of their neuroses and complexes. But it also involves delving into the distant past: regressing a hysterical woman named Cecily (Susannah York) to find the point of origin of her troubles, and looking back through his own mind and memories to sort out his relationship with his father: investigations that ultimately lead to his announcing a theory of infantile sexuality, to much derision from his peers.

While A Dangerous Method was a cold, controlled and austere drama enlivened only by Keira Knightley's shrieky freakouts in the opening reels, Freud is a much more melodramatic piece of work, keeping the hysterics back until the second half of the film when we see Cecily's and his own dreams and memories dramatised in the kind of luridly symbolic dream sequences I never seem to have*. However, at two and a quarter hours it's a hell of a long haul dramatically, to the extent that after about an hour I seriously considered abandoning it entirely, and having decided to stick it out to the end I'm not sure that I made the right choice.

Visually the movie's quite rich (the non-anamorphic DVD doesn't look as good as it could and should): all shadowy Gothic black-and-white gloom, and there's an early and very creepy score by Jerry Goldsmith which is of some slight interest as parts of it were tracked into Alien (how's that for symbolism?) more than fifteen years later. Otherwise it's really a monumental drag full of blokes in variously scary beards barking jargon at each other. Maybe, as I think A Dangerous Method does, Freud demands a more than casual interest in, and knowledge of, psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Without that, it's pretty glum.

* (Personally I'm not sure about dream symbolism - that if you dream about cucumbers you're really trying to deal with your unsuspected bisexuality or if you dream about a unicorn you should buy a new car. My subconscious surely knows that I don't understand any of my dreams, and if it really wants to impart something important to my dreaming mind then it should visualise a figure of authority - say, Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor - to carry a big placard saying "change your job" or "you're sexually frustrated" or whatever, and repeatedly bellow these insights to my "face" until I wake up. Then I might get the message.)


Penis! Penis!

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