Parchment Paper and Penmanship: The Underwhelming and Illuminating Joy of David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”

Underwhelming (verb): Fail to impress or make a positive impact on (someone); disappoint.

Often, if not always, this word is associated as having a negative descriptive connotation.  I mean when was the last time you heard someone describe something as being fantastically underwhelming?  With that being said, David Cronenberg‘s early 20th Century bio-drama of the relationships between psychiatrists Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and the woman who came between them, Sabina Spielein (Keira Knightley) is fantastically underwhelming.  I shall explain.

Up until this film, David Cronenberg has made an art out of beautifully conveying either sex, gore, or violence within some part of one of his films.  From his early filmography of the 80s (Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers) right up to his more recent work (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises) one of these three elements have wound up coming to the forefront and being one of the most memorable parts of the film.

Humoring myself with the same word association test administered by Dr. Jung in A Dangerous Mind I’ll prove my point:

Eastern Promises – naked sauna fight scene.

A History of Violence – intense sex on the stairs.

Dead Ringers – crude bloody instrumentation.

The Fly – gory and icky Jeff Goldblum.

The Brood – murderous children.

You get my point.  Now you try it.  Chances are that a scene depicting sexual acts, gore, or violence will be the first thing to pop into your head after naming a particular Cronenberg film.

If someone were to ask me to name the first scene that pops into my head from A Dangerous Mind, I would say parchment paper and flawless penmanship.  As far as everlasting Cronenberg-isms are concerned, parchment paper and penmanship are two very underwhelming images to have imprinted in one’s psyche.

Having seen this movie nearly a year ago, and having seen several hundred movies since writing this, the odd thing is, even though these images present themselves to me as tame – especially when compared to almost all of his other films – I still can not shake them from my head.  Now, if that’s not a powerful representation of underwhelming and illuminating everlasting joy on film then I don’t know what is.

And now, my proposal for an additional definition for the word underwhelming:

Underwhelming: to impress or make a positive impact on (someone) without the use of typical Cronenberg-esque elements such as sex, gore, violence; to not disappoint.

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Categories: Reviews

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  1. A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011) | splendidcinema - September 18, 2012

    […] Parchment Paper and Penmanship: The Underwhelming and Illuminating Joy of David Cronenberg’s &… (filmbalaya.com) […]

  2. Podcast Episode #9: “Maps to the Stars” | Filmbalaya.com - March 12, 2015

    […] Parchment Paper and Penmanship: The underwhelming and illuminating joy of David Cronenberg’s &… […]

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