A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method (2011) movie poster

(2011) director David Cronenberg
viewed: 12/22/2011 at Embarcadero Cinemas, SF, CA

I don’t know whether David Cronenberg has ever himself gone through Freudian analysis but it’s easy to assume much of his earliest film work was put through such by critics, analysts and film students.  In A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg turns the analysis back on Sigmund Freud and his colleague Carl Jung and their relationship around psychoanalysis and a patient of Jung’s with whom he had an affair, Sabina Spielrein.  Ostensibly, this is an historical drama, dramatized but based in fact.

The film stars Michael Fassbender as Jung, Keira Knightley as Spielrein, and Viggo Mortensen as Freud, with Vincent Cassel appearing in a cameo as another odd figure of the psychoanalysts, Otto Gross.  What’s true if nothing else is that there is a lot of interesting story here, originally documented in a non-fiction book called A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr and then into a stage play called “The Talking Cure” by Christopher Hampton, who also wrote the screenplay. I have to say that I was almost immediately interested in reading up more on the subjects.

This is contemporary Cronenberg, not as overtly Freudian as in his earlier films of horror, science fiction, sex and violence.  But it’s also a lot more racy, say, than more typical historical dramas that are released during Oscar season like The King’s Speech (2010).  There is sex, sadism, masochism, though nowhere along the lines of Cronenberg’s earlier film Crash (1996), Dead Ringers (1988), or Rabid (1977).

Knightley, who I’ve always deemed rather lightly (sorry), is actually quite good as the hysterical Russian Spielrein.  For one thing, she acts and sounds distinctly different from other roles.  She appears at the beginning, a screaming, raving, uncontrollable basket case, in which Knightley is either quite good or good even in over-doing it.  But she’s good throughout the film, as a woman with crazy repression and a distinct genius of her own, who is “cured” by Jung’s “talking cure” and sexual relationship.

I liked the movie.  I like Fassbender, Mortensen and company and, as I said, the reality behind the story suggests even more fascinating truths in understanding it.  And a lot of the movie moves along quite well.  But at several points, it turns to the reading of one letter, say from Freud to Jung, then another in response from Jung to Freud, and back again.  And though this is no doubt the way much of their friendship, communication, and ultimate break with one another transpired, it’s a lot less dramatically effective.  The film doesn’t so much bog down as sort of just move slowly.

For my money, Cronenberg is always worth seeing and this film has a lot of interesting stuff to offer.  I might even find myself looking for the original non-fiction book from which this all arose to read more on the subject.

Interesting and recommended.

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