While not so disheartening as the checkered-face approach, which this year alone has marred the promotion of indie dramedies, mainstream comedies and documentaries alike, the straight-on, group-headshot poster is among the industry’s most naggingly uninspired, tossing art out the window in favor of nothing more than star recognition. The Italian poster for David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method (above left) is sure to be one of the year’s worst, a preposterously dull, afternoon collage project that hails from the King’s Speech school of How the Hell Do We Market This? Also reminiscent of that ugly one-sheet for last year’s Harrison Ford weepie Extraordinary Measures (which used the shared space of two stars’ arms to add text and, apparently, some semblance of meaning), A Dangerous Method d’Italia might as well show Keira Knightley shrugging those smooth, naked shoulders. It hugely shortchanges a film that, while not expected to incite a whole lot of deeply impassioned responses, surely deserves something better than a glorified makeup ad.
So as not to simply give the poster a snarky brush-off, it’s worth noting what it’s able to accomplish, however unwittingly. In all fairness, the headshots in this particular case highlight the vital importance of this trio of faces in Cronenberg’s aesthetic. Knightley, Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen all perform well in their roles, but it’s those slightly offbeat movie-star mugs you can’t look away from, their beautiful symmetry paired with terrible fascination. Like his contemporary Brad Pitt, Mortensen now has ample wrinkles of interest added to his god-given good genes, while Knightley and Fassbender share a kind of cavernous, cadaverous quality in their facial structures. Reasons of muse devotion and character appropriateness were surely on the table, but it’s clear Cronenberg was thinking hard about putting the best faces forward when casting A Dangerous Method, and his skill at exploiting them is one of the film’s most captivating aspects (provocative subject matter notwithstanding, it’s not every day you get a prestige movie whose whole cast has looks and talent of the same skyscraping caliber). Beyond that, you might say the plain white backdrop and unfussy overall package reflect Cronenberg’s own downplaying of his period production design, but that seems light years away from a conscious decision.
Though even less attractive in the traditional sense, the film’s French poster (above right) at least provides some attempt at thematic illustration, with Fassbender’s Carl Jung and Mortensen’s Sigmund Freud sharing a little head space with Knightley’s troubled Russian doll, the patient who comes between the two doctors. It beats Italy’s offering, which could be advertising just about anything at all, but it looks unfinished, and it’s still an overall failure. In no way does this film require a likening to a Victorian ghost story, which is what we get from the old-school superimposition and Knightley’s frumpy, eerie styling: A Little House on the Prairie braid and a frilly chastity gown. Perhaps the reported simultaneous release of these posters is meant to convey the arc, or duality, of Knightley’s main character, whose sexual and mental maturation is the movie’s central thrust. Which is to say, in this corner, we have a virginal patient bound by restrictions and ripe for influence, and in the other, we have a woman unleashed, free in mind and body, free of collars and braids. Maybe the posters are meant to be viewed together, or maybe there’s an evolution at work here, and the promotion of A Dangerous Method is undergoing a maturation of its own. Maybe the third time will be the charm, and U.S. poster designers will take heed. Or, maybe they’ll just take the checkered-face approach.