Review: Albert Nobbs

Gender roles and more importantly, our preconceived notions of them, are put into question in Rodrigo Garcia’s latest film, Albert Nobbs. Starring Glenn Close as a diminutive butler in 19th century Ireland. The very idea of her character is contradictory to what we would perceive as likely or proper for the times.

Albert Nobbs is a woman tormented by her past and longs for a future that most people, man or woman of her time, would never see. When we first meet Nobbs she is well into her life pretending to be a male butler for a small hotel. Her ability to fool others around her for what we can assume has been years is amazing. There are many times in the film’s 113 minutes that you simply forget that Glenn Close is playing a man. She is so convincing that you can see why the other characters in her universe suspect nothing. Nobbs’s life is routine heavy; simplistic and predictable as one’s life could be. Nobbs is similar to a tiny toy soldier who is wound up and set on her way each morning. Preparing the guest rooms, bringing the proper flowers to the hotel’s common patrons, and dropping off a stiff drink to the hotel’s in house doctor. Nobbs never misses a beat. She is clearly the star of the staff and she is perfect. Saving every bit of money that is earned and meticulously recording it in a journal, Nobbs ends her day. Life is going exactly as planned until Nobbs meets someone who is in a surprisingly similar situation. Janet McTeer plays the spoiler of the best-laid plans of Nobbs with her stand out performance as Hubert Page. A challenger to the system; the monkey wrench is embodied in this powerhouse of a character. Page is forced to sleep in the same bed as Nobbs for convenience one night and through a series of events it is revealed that Albert Nobbs is in fact a woman. The relationship that develops between the two is something to see. The almost student/teacher dynamic makes for great cinema.

Nobbs’s desire to be normal is amplified to extreme levels when the choice of personal relationships and marriage are contemplated. Throughout the movie Nobbs dreams of starting a business, escaping the mores of the simple life that has been led up until this point. You become sympathetic to this as we all yearn on some level for the good life. Nobbs decides that Helen Dawes, played expertly by Mia Wasikowska is the right person to live out the rest of life with. However, Helen has other plans and the answers are not so simple as Nobbs would like them to be. Aaron Johnson, who plays Joe allows for a dimension of manliness that is naturally lacking in Nobbs. Physically and emotionally, Joe is the man’s man that Nobbs on many levels yearns to be. He is envious of him but Nobbs, in some ways, is a better man than Joe could ever be. The question of what masculinity is can be found in the triangle of interactions between Nobbs, Helen, and Joe.

Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, and Aaron Johnson all give award winning performances that leave you beaming during the 3rd act of the film. However, I thought the standout performance goes to Janet McTeer. Her limited screen time did not preclude her from making a vast impact. Glenn Close’s Albert Nobbs was a one-note performance. However, I don’t say that in a derisive way at all. The Nobbs character is played this way on purpose I believe. Nobbs is a woman who is desperately trying to blend in and bring no attention. Nobbs is pretending to be something that she is not and can only take cues from what actual males do as some sort of gender understudy. She is purposely inaccessible to the people around her and it speaks to what someone in her position would actually do. She rarely smiles or shows emotion. For this, would let her mask slip and ruin her. She needs to be at arm’s length away from everything and everyone to make it work.

Rodrigo Garcia’s Albert Nobbs is an important film. When watching this movie you lose yourself in what society tells you is the right thing for a woman to be. What objects, jobs, and notions are distinctly male or female? Do we, as a society ultimately decide what the limits of male and female rolls are? Nobbs challenges this to a large degree. Even though this film takes place in fictional 19th century Ireland the tone and the messages are still relevant today. We watch the cultural wars wage in reference to fair treatment of women in the work place even in 2012. The notion of gender and femininity are taken apart and laid bare for you to see and judge for yourself. Did we limit ourselves in what we thought of women in the past? Do we continue that destructive trend today?

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Review: A Dangerous Method

David Cronenberg’s latest film, A Dangerous Method, is an inside view of the three people who were very much on the forefront of psychiatry in the early 1900s. The triangles of academic, as well as, social conflict were on full display between the main characters. Keira Knightley portrays Sabrina Spielrein, a Russian woman tortured with her own diagnosis of hysteria. Her young psychiatrist, Carl Jung, played by the seemingly omnipresent Michael Fassbender. Jung’s mentor is the world famous Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), who counsels Jung in using “talking therapy” to help his patients, specifically Spielrein.

When the movie opens we are introduced to the Jung and his expecting wife. Jung’s relationship with her is very much one of necessity. It is made very clear that he is generally unhappy with his marital situation and just goes on with it out of the routine. Jung is a product of severe repression, but we will get to that later. Jung’s life as a psychiatrist is pretty standard for the times. The methods used are cold baths, straight-jacks, etc., yet Jung yearns to try a new method. A technique that has been created and documented by his mentor, Sigmund Freud. This method in question is transference. This is achieved by what we now know as modern day psychiatry; you sit on a couch and talk to the therapist who sits behind you.

While the talking therapy, as its referred, seems harmless on the face it takes on a life of its own in the hands of the inexperienced. Jung begins to use the talking therapy on his new patient, Sabrina, when she arrives at his facility. Knightley portrayal of Sabrina is extreme here. Whether the interpretation was Knightley alone or from some historical records she plays Sabrina to an extreme degree. Personally I liked the portrayal but I could see why some found it distracting and likely just Hollywood-esque overacting. Either way, it doesn’t last too long as Sabrina is brought into the normal world rather quickly. I would have preferred to see Sabrina’s recovery flushed out a little more here. Cronenberg seemed to be more focused on the love story and less on the psychiatry that sparked it all.

As Jung and Sabrina spend more time together you begin to see their relationship develop in slightly uncomfortable ways. This is the plays backdrop to Jung and Freud’s relationship that has moved past mentor-student levels and now into full father-son territory. Mortensen’s portrayal of the stern, sometimes funny, and charismatic Freud was a pleasure to watch. He steals every scene that he is in. Freud is such a complicated historical figure, and many have serious criticisms of his views. However, Mortensen plays him just right that you love and hate who he is. This, to me, is the best type of acting to watch. When an actor can make you feel for what seemingly are villains than they have accomplished something new entirely.

The sexual relationship that develops between Sabrina and Jung is one that I think might be exploited for Hollywood extras. Sabrina is presented in a manor of a sadomasochistic. There is not much in the historical documents to suggest this and I think its put there to get the audience into the story while simultaneously keeping it sexy. Ultimately Jung and Sabrina end their affair and Sabrina goes from a submissive character to very much a woman in control. Knightley seems to try and make up for the lackluster performance in the beginning here. She really shines when Sabrina is her own woman. This, in my opinion, is where Knightley is clearly more comfortable being. She is able to put on her best Russian accent and stand toe to toe with Fassbender and Mortensen. Sometimes overshadowing their stellar performances.

Even with Knightley really coming alive in the second half of the film, Fassbender and Mortensen are the standouts here. Their relationship/rivalry is something to watch. I could watch the build up and break down of their friendship over and over again. The aforementioned skill the Mortensen displayed makes me want to see a solo film about Freud played by him. Mortensen is very comfortable in this role from the first time you see him and his quotes and etched in to my mind. Fassbender is no slouch either. He gives us a Carl Jung who is as repressed as they come. Never really being apart of his own life, but rather just living in his work, Jung is distant and yet carries on seemingly intimate relationships with those around him. Fassbender plays Jung completely straight. He never gives you the feeling that Jung has it under control. Rather that he is a wild animal waiting to get out but all he needs is the permission…from himself. The animalistic tendencies are not just in the hypersexual realm. He also seeks this permission to challenge the system, Sigmund Freud.

[easyreview title= "Review of A Dangerous Method" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]