Review: A Dangerous Method
PLOT: Carl Jung was an admirer of the genius of Sigmund Freud. He studied his work and he is finally given the chance to work with the famed doctor’s very own controversial method “the talking cure.” Yet Jung is presented with a great challenge with his new patient, a woman named Sabina who can barely distinguish between pain and love. When the young woman is healed, Jung discovers that he has fallen in love with the beautiful girl. Yet things get complicated when Freud also falls under the spell of the lovely and complicated Sabina.
David Cronenberg is no stranger to the eccentricities of human sexuality. His work has always delved deep into our psyche whether in a horrific way (VIDEODROME, THE BROOD, RABID) or simply the pent up aggression of a married couple living in secret (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE). However, in A DANGEROUS METHOD, director Cronenberg creates what may be his most accessible work to date. In fact, if you didn’t know he was at the helm, you may not even realize who is directing this sharp and deliberate period piece. Gone are the explicit images, bizarre creatures, or even the dark undercurrent of violence waiting to explode. What we have here is the story of three people, whose lives are intertwined by sexual gratification, humiliation, and believe it or not, love.
The screenplay by Christopher Hampton (based on his own stage play ‘A Talking Cure’), focuses on three historical figures. In 1904, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) was an idealistic young doctor who looked up to Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) for his brave new treatments in the world of psychiatry. When a young lady named Sabina Spielrein is brought to the young doctor for treatment, he decides to try a new treatment to help the strikingly beautiful – and well educated - patient. With a diagnosis of hysteria, Jung takes on Freud’s “talking cure,” also called psychoanalysis. When the treatment is successful, he soon begins exchanging idea’s with Freud himself, and of course, falling in love with Sabina. However, even though he carries such strong feelings for her, he avoids crossing the line and expressing his desire. After all, he is a married man with a family, and she of course is his patient.
We are then introduced to another patient by the name of Otto Gross (the phenomenal Vincent Cassel) – a fellow psychiatrist - one who frees the good doctor from his inhibitions and fears with words of wisdom. Jung then begins an affair with the lovely and recently cured Spielrein. As their relationship becomes more complicated, so does the friendship that grows between Jung and Freud. In many ways, the way the two men deal with respect for one another and their competitive nature towards each other fuels the fire that burns beneath A DANGEROUS METHOD.
While both Fassbinder and Mortensen are absolutely wonderful in their portrayals, there is one unexpectedly great turn. When Keira Knightley first appears on screen, she is terrified and suffering from extremely painful memories. Her introduction is very important and extremely potent. The way she flinches when Jung steps behind her to begin therapy, you feel every bit of disturbance that she is going through. This is an impressive performance. She takes it just enough to the point of madness without appearing ridiculous. It is a heartbreaking and raw take on this character. As she begins the process, she continues to grow as Sabina, making her arc all the more real because we witnessed her at the very worst.
Cronenberg has always been a master behind the camera and while A DANGEROUS METHOD is impressively shot, it is not quite what you’d expect from the director. It is clear that the source material is adapted from a play, as the feature moves and feels a bit like a staged performance. This does sometimes hinder the last half of the film, but only slightly. There is an assuredness in the way the story is told. With phenomenal performances from Knightley, Fassbender and Mortensen, and a rich and complex script, there is a depth and power to this terrific feature. Yet it is Cronenberg’s eye for the deepest level of the human condition that compliments A DANGEROUS METHOD, which is most assuredly a trip worth taking.