Cheery Atheist Cronenberg Lauds Insects, Pattinson: Interview

David Cronenberg
Director David Cronenberg on the set of "A Dangerous Method." The film is about the birth of psychoanalysis. Photographer: Liam Daniel/Sony Pictures Classics via Bloomberg

David Cronenberg, whose new movie “A Dangerous Method” is about the birth of psychoanalysis, has never seen a shrink.

“I’m the most normal human being you’ve ever met,” he says with a wry smile. “I joke that I haven’t been in analysis because I have no problems.”

Not so with many characters in his movies, which often feature sexual perversity and bizarre body transformations.

An avowed atheist, the 68-year-old Canadian director insists he isn’t a tormented soul.

“I don’t believe in demons,” he says. “If you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in the devil.”

Cronenberg, who has a full head of silver-streaked hair, wore a plaid shirt, jeans and black boots as we spoke at a New York hotel. I started by asking him about “A Dangerous Method,” which opens Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles.

The movie centers on the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), the father of psychoanalysis, and his protege Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). They had a falling out after Freud learned of Jung’s affair with a patient, a young Russian (Keira Knightley) who later became a prominent therapist herself.

Warner: Was the affair the main cause of their split?

Cronenberg: No, it was much deeper and broader than that. Freud believed in the reality of the human body. Jung was more like a religious leader. He wanted to transcend the body and spiritually rehabilitate the patient.

Taboo Subjects

Warner: What made Freud such a groundbreaking figure?

Cronenberg: He lived in a time of great repression, when the body and its functions were never mentioned. Freud started to talk about taboo things he was hearing about from his patients like incest, child abuse and women’s sexuality, which wasn’t something that was accepted at the time.

Warner: Do you believe in psychotherapy?

Cronenberg: I’ve never tried it, but it obviously works for some people. I know a very good Canadian writer who said that Freudian analysis saved him from suicide.

Warner: Insects play a major role in some of your movies. Have you always been fascinated by them?

Cronenberg: It’s not like I keep them as pets and they’re crawling all over me. It’s just that when you see butterflies and grasshoppers and praying mantises, you think, “Wow, these are amazing creatures.” Of course, it’s different than loving your cat.

Selling Out

Warner: You’ve had a chance to direct big-budget Hollywood movies like “Total Recall” and “Return of the Jedi.” Why has it never happened?

Cronenberg: I’ve tried to sell out -- it just never works out. I spent a year on “Total Recall” and did 12 drafts of the script, but I never made it because of a strange misunderstanding.

Warner: Your next film, “Cosmopolis,” is based on Don DeLillo’s novel about a billionaire investor riding across Manhattan in a limo. It doesn’t sound all that cinematic, so what was the attraction?

Cronenberg: You’re right, there’s no insects and just a little violence. But it’s a story that flows beautifully. And just because a lot of it takes place in a limo doesn’t mean it’s boring. “Lebanon” takes place inside an Israeli tank and “Das Boot” is all inside a submarine.

Pattinson’s Acting

Warner: The film stars Robert Pattinson of “The Twilight Saga” series. Do you think he can escape his vampire pigeonhole?

Cronenberg: He’s a terrific actor, which will be obvious when you see the movie. Any director who’s looking to see what he can do will see that he can do a lot.

Warner: Your son, Brandon, is directing his first movie as we speak. Are you surprised he’s following in your footsteps?

Cronenberg: Not really. He’s been on film sets since he was a baby and he’s a very good writer. So for him, making movies is normal. In Hollywood, nobody would consider that unusual. But in Canada, I guess, it’s a big deal.

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE