The overarching themes of violence, media, but more importantly sex have been something that has interested director David Cronenberg’s filmography for a while. With his 2011 film, he goes straight to the source of the human psyche of sexuality with a film about renowned psychiatrists Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Cronenberg fans may be disappointed that his film is more streamlined and doesn’t go into a more subversive tone from his previous films, but the powerhouse acting by Fassbender and Mortensen elevate the material that is brought to the screen.
What Cronenberg brings to his 2011 film is more character driven than thematically. The script, based off a play “The Talking Cure” by Christopher Hampton and John Kerr’s “A Most Dangerous Method”, presents the dynamics of psychoanalysis from the perspectives of Jung and Freud, and how the patients that they meet soon cause a rift to their friendship and psychiatric ideals. The film doesn’t seem to be concerned with stretching out these proceedings, coming in a lean 99 minutes. This allows Cronenberg to develop relationships in a quick, but believable chemistry.
Fassbender’s Jung is the more focused between the two psychiatrist, as it’s his ideals that become more than just “curing” the patient, which comes through the relationships that he creates with his Russian patient Sabrina Spielrein (Keria Knightley) and radical psychoanalyst Otto Gross (Vincent Cassell). Fassbender is excellent as Jung, always being aware of his morals of fidelity and marriage, but knows that these morals are completely holding back his own needs. It’s these needs that are internal conflict with Jung, while his external being with his soon burgeoning competition with Viggo’s Mortensen’s Freud.
Mortensen is pretty much effortless as Sigmund Freud, a man who believes that his own ideas of psychoanalysis must be kept at the most basic, in fear that if they stray off the path to include other aspects, such as religion, then their work will utterly be ruined. Mortensen plays the stern father figure of Freud towards Fassbender, and their underlying, but professional conflicts between the two are the subdued, but fascinating scenes in the film. The rest of the cast is great as well, with Keira Knightley pretty much going no-holds-barred (especially in the first act) as Spielrein, and Cassell’s Otto Gross just being fascinating, being more of the devil on Jung’s shoulders in terms of how he deals with his love life and marriage.
Cronenberg isn’t interested in providing anything out of the ordinary in this period piece of the birth of psychoanalysis, as he seems much more comfortable in letting the camera shoot and allowing the actors just play off each other so well. It’s much more theatrical than cinematic in most of the film, mostly due to the script based off the screenwriter’s play. This also leads to some of the flaws for the film, as scenes feel a bit cluttered and certain character arcs feel slightly cluttered in the plot.
But, other than those flaws, A Dangerous Method is a fine character piece on the leading psychiatrists of our time, and how their ideas of psychoanalysis had gone through their separate ways. Cronenberg doesn’t go deep in the rabbit hole on how sex can impact the human psyche, but instead allows the interesting fundamentals of psychoanalysis, as well as some great acting by Fassbender and Mortensen, to anchor the viewer’s interest.