A Dangerous Method
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley
Directed by: David Cronenberg
4 out of 5
For those who appreciate David Cronenberg’s work, there comes an undaunted delight in knowing it will break the rules.
His origin is a gory one. Debuting in the 1970s, the Canadian filmmaker cemented his status with an array of body horror pictures, drawing upon societies discomfort for sex, violence, medicine and technology.
However, unlike like many of his contemporaries (Scorsese and Spielberg), Cronenberg saw film as just another means of art – a philosophy that has undoubtedly allowed him to avoid Hollywood constraints and rise as an original, consistently able to attract A-list talent.
So while the grotesque images of Shivers, Videodrome and The Fly are very much part of his lauded past, the new millennium has afforded revision, one that has seen him transition from mind over body.
His newest in four years, A Dangerous Method follows the relationship between the founder of analytic psychology, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a Russian psychoanalyst who started as his disturbed patient – seething with spastic contortions and frightening hysterics.
Over the course of six years, spanning Switzerland to Vienna, the film incorporates hypothetical notions and factual context, sourcing its screenplay on Jung’s personal letters. Soon, as their bond intensifies, a breach between doctor and patient explodes into a kinky, masochistic romance – finding the aggressive Spielrein enamored with the married Jung.
In contrast, an air of stately intellect arrives with the film’s second relationship, a man who was Jung’s hero, colleague, and finally, rival – Sigmund Freud. Played by Viggo Mortensen, an actor who usually takes the call of stoic outcasts, the role is superbly cast against grain as Croneberg and Mortensen interpret the man as an adroit and sophisticated luminary.
By all accounts, A Dangerous Method is a period piece through and through – draped in decorative attire of the time, elegant locales brimming with cobblestone and carriages. Inside, however, with its darkened corridors, the picture functions as an absorbing verbal thinker, questioning the repression of our immoral thoughts and actions.
Given the advantage of having their work and ideas readily available, the film’s reward comes from observing these historic figures speak and validate them, splendidly embodied by skilled actors.
Through Freud’s concepts, Jung breaks through with Spielrein, having her divulge memories of sexual fervor and incestual abuse, subsequently igniting their passionate affair and her eventual path of psychoanalysis itself.
Even more fascinating, though, is the contact between Freud and Jung – lavish in insight, zingers, and deceit. A good sign of a film is when you want more, rather than less.
While Freud remains calculated, cerebral, a dismayed with clairvoyance, you sense that Jung is the opposite, toying with mysticism and prophecy – but only hinted at.
Influencing their professional divide further is a salacious cameo from Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross, a rouge student of Freud’s, sent to Jung for observation. While there, explicit tales of sexual promiscuity and cocaine indulgence rattle and seduce Jung’s psyche, rationalizing his affair with Spielrein, which, in turn, forms the catalyst of Freud’s fallout. All three bring terrific nuance to their roles, oddly melding into a ménage a trios of verbal sparring.
Restraint is the key word for A Dangerous Method. Opting for dialogue and debauchery over bloodletting – this is a film that tells, but rarely shows, save for a virginal deflowering. Yes, instead of the typical ‘cronenberg-isms’ of exploding heads, the film deals with imploding relationships and desires, still undeniably sealed by the director’s acumen.
For his first historical effort, David Cronenberg unleashes a stimulating treat for the mind, one that makes you ponder and seek the writings of Jung and Freud immediately afterwards. Tell me, for a film, what’s more admirable than that?