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The Many Faces of Freud in Film – How will Viggo Mortensen


10 February 2012

Over the years, many actors have been cast to play the role of neurologist Sigmund Freud. David Cronenberg’s latest feature ‘A Dangerous Method’ sees Viggo Mortensen step up to the challenge of filling his shoes.

A Dangerous Method stars British gems Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender, two actors in the peak of their career. Then there’s the brilliant Frenchman Vincent Cassel who is most famous for his roles in ‘La Haine’ and more recently ‘Black Swan’. With such a talented cast and director attached, we can assure you ‘A Dangerous Method’ is a title well worth getting excited about!

Whilst most associate Freud with his controversial sexual ventures, it may surprise you that he shunned philosophy in favour of becoming a neurological researcher of cerebral palsy, aphasia and microscopic neuroanatomy. Mind-blowing stuff right?! Undeniably not as interesting as his proposal that our sex drive is everything in life, without sexual desires, we wouldn’t be motivated to do just about...anything! It’s unsurprisingly, this aspect of Freud that is most prevalent in film.

There have been many light hearted productions portraying Freud. Examples include ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures’ where he is mocked and labelled a ‘geek’, also not forgetting the ‘classic’ ‘Freud Slips’ in 2004.

The aging Sigmund Freud himself may have some issues to work out when he visits a modern-day health club and finds himself obsessed with all the hot, sweaty muscle boys. 

On a serious note... the three notable accounts for analysis are Freud: The Secret Passion’ (1962), ‘The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud (1984) and the 1984 television series innovatively titled... ‘Freud’. With Cronenberg’s ‘A Dangerous Method’ in mind, how will Viggo’s latest portrayal measure up to his predecessors?

Freud: The Secret Passion (1962)

Directed by John Huston, ‘Freud: The Secret Passion’ is a fictional biographical account of Freud’s life from 1885-1890. The responsibility of playing Freud is put on the shoulders of 4 time academy award nominated actor Montgomery Clift. Through a patient, the audience are given a full introduction of Freud’s Psychoanalysis theory as Freud applies his theories to a patient who is sexually inexperienced and hysterically infatuated with childhood experiences surrounding her father. Reviews online from IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes by no means slate the film (6.9 / 65%) but neither sings its praises.

The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud (1984)

This satire comical representation of Freud sees Bud Cort step into Freud’s shoes. The narrative is guided through the use of a fictional secret diary with endless laughs in store (apparently so anyway). Sickened by blood and all things biological, Freud developed a complete misunderstanding of the practice of medicine and starts analysing all his patients psychoanalytically. With an IMDB rating of 4.1 and 29% score on rotten tomatoes we are more than confident that Viggo can put in a superior performance.

Freud (1984)

Released on DVD last year, the BBC 6 part mini-series saw David Suchet win a Royal Television Society award for this portrayal of psychoanalyst Freud. The docudrama follows Freud from the age of 28 all the way up to his death at the age of 83. Undoubtedly more provocative than ‘The Secret Passion’ and ‘The Secret Diary’, the show explores his struggle with oral cancer, his dependence on cocaine, his suspected homosexuality and a deep analysis of his personal life including his chaste relationship with his sister in law. A dark and provocative watch but inevitably made to conform to censorship regulations.

Viggo Mortensen

Viggo is best known for his macho role as Aragorn in ‘The Lord of The Rings’.  He’s consistently impressive in ‘A History of Violence’, ‘Eastern Promises’ and ‘The Road’. Even with his track record, the role of Freud is undeniably going to stretch his talents to new levels.

So what advantages does Viggo have on his side to give a stronger performance than his predecessors? Thanks to the change in what the BBFC classify as acceptable in modern cinema, the sex scenes can provide the audience with a far raunchier experience which is more than taken advantage of. A Dangerous Method isn’t released in the UK until the 10th February but because of its November US release, you can find articles online providing in depth discussion about the on-screen spanking scenes with Fassbender and Keira Knightley. Are these articles likely to score a few more tickets at the Box Office? We hope so! Viggo has also just scored a nomination at the Golden Globes in the ‘Best Actor’ category so hopefully this will go some way to enticing some of you to watch the film for his performance alone.
Despite undergoing extensive research on Freud, Viggo pays great homage to Cronenberg, claiming that because of his on-set presence, incisive wit and sense of humour the research wasn’t necessary.  Viggo thinks he could have played the role convincingly by just feeding off his direction. That’s not to say his research wasn’t worth doing! This is the third time Viggo has collaborated with Cronenberg (Eastern Promises and A History of Violence in the past), surely a relationship that can only benefit Viggo in the mammoth challenge of playing Freud.

A Dangerous Method Film Page

A DANGEROUS METHOD IS OUT TODAY