Film Review: A Dangerous Method
The complex relationship between Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) is intelligently lamented over in this period drama from David Cronenberg.
David Cronenberg who, over his forty year career has delivered to cinema audiences exploding heads, mutated maggot babies and VCR slots in chests, now offers a change of pace in his most recent film A Dangerous Method. His two previous films, Eastern Promises and A History of Violence (both of which also star Mortensen), had seen the master of body shock move into less volatile areas of expression. This wasn’t to say Cronenberg had gone soft in his old age however, for both films retained his macabre and intellectual signature, a naked knife fight/throat stamp execution and patriarchal identity fears, respectively. So A Dangerous Method arrives with much interest and expectation not only to establish if Cronenberg can continue his recent form, but also to witness what is conjured up from a subject which the director has himself been dramatising throughout his career.
The film follows the relationship between Dr. Jung and troubled patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), the study of psychoanalysis and Jung’s relationship with Dr. Freud. Jung applies the talking method to Speilrein, who’s traumatic episodes connect to a humiliating experience in her childhood. Slowly this method starts to produce results and Sabina appears to regain a stability in her life, along with an active interest in the psychoanalysis which cured her. However, complications soon arise when the lines between patient, doctor and lover become blurred. Jung’s relationship with Spielrein leads to a weighted strain on his marriage to wife Emma (Sarah Gadon), along with his professional relationship with his mentor, Dr. Freud.
For all the repressed and clipped speech in A Dangerous Method, where sexual undercurrents and double meanings simmer and ebb like a molten river, the film is oddly lacking in fiery bubbles. There are moments in which the prim and proper surface is pierced where the ideas and cinematic techniques appear to marry successfully, the scene in which Emma is being tested by Jung is particularly resonant, yet they are in the minority. When taking into consideration the turmoil Jung’s professional and romantic life were coming under, combined with the wider implications of a scandal and potential psychological fall out, it all feels too knowingly reserved to strike with any impact. Not even the acts of salacious sadomasochism ruffle you, as the uneven choices made by Cronenberg culminate in distinctly average dramatisation of a distinctly unaverage array of characters.
Fassbender and Mortensen are both on form, bringing clout and austerity to their roles, however Vincent Cassel (playing Otto Gross) and Gadon feel underused and under developed. Knightly’s inconsistent performance and jutting gurn is a stroke of misdirection on part of both director and actor, ultimately summing up the films pros and cons: it either tries to hard to provoke or not enough to follow through successfully. Thus the strengths which A Dangerous Method does retain, such as it’s blatant respect for audience intelligence and it’s defined and clever ideas about the subject matter, do sadly perish, and key scenes which only work with convincing emotional weight end up feeling a bit silly.
A Dangerous Method is an ambitious film with undeniable substance, it’s just in the end rather underwhelming and surprisingly docile, appearing to only reach out to those with an active interest in the subject or the directors work. It’s by no means a bad film, just no where near as dangerous as it should have been.