Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects:
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With "A Dangerous Method", Canadian director David Cronenberg is clearly venturing outside of his comfort zone of "Crash", "A History Of Violence" and "Eastern Promises". Simply put, it is a story about two men and the woman who comes in between them, as always, but peel back the layers and there is the visual and auditory account of the birth of psychoanalysis from 1904 to 1913, also known as the "talking cure". Played from the point of view of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), it depicts these years as pivotal in Jung's life and development as a psychiatrist where he takes on the case of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a disturbed but intelligent woman whose troubled family past leads her to possess sado-masochistic tendencies. Eventually, he meets his mentor, Austrian Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), whose obstinacy and ideals soon lead to a battle of wits between the men, with Spielrein right in the middle of it all, just like the movie's poster.
For those who are not fond of character pieces, then Cronenberg's psychodrama is definitely not for them. It is a defiantly literary film that dips in and out of the dry area, with a certain level of formality that prevents viewers from empathising with the characters onscreen despite the fine acting from the three leads; Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen. Something should be said of Keira Knightley's performance as Sabrina Spielrein. While her spirited embrace of her character's mental instability may cause some to cringe in their seats, ultimately, it is feral and unsettling, and will linger on in the viewers' minds even when she is off the screen. Further, most of the scenes between Fassbender and Mortensen are cleverly played, with an underlying tension that helped to add to Jung's story. The former once again impresses as a young doctor who becomes the personification of irony in his struggles against his physical sexual desires yet rejects these very desires on an intellectual level, which Freud states as the root of all human actions. Meanwhile, Mortensen's wily portrayal of the venerable Freud and the acerbic way he tears at Jung in his accusations of the latter's "second-rate mysticism and self-aggrandizing shamanism" is riveting to behold. If anything, Vincent Cassel's brief appearances as the unrestrained psychiatrist Otto Gross, who functions as the devil that pushes Jung towards following his instincts has served absolutely no purpose other than as an excuse for Jung to blame his immorality on.
Cinematography-wise, the direction of the movie is elegant. For example, the juxtaposition of the two distinct stories, which are Jung's friendship and rivalry with Freud and his sadomasochistic romance with Spielrein served to complement and develop each other rather than fight for screen time within the 99-minute frame. However, much of the anticipated drama is toned down, even those that depict Jung's fulfilment of Spielrein's sadomasochistic tendencies. The only time where real emotion is shown is when Jung breaks down in front of Spielrein after one of their moments together. Otherwise, it is undeniable that the movie is a conservative experience, visually and auditory, as it chokes from the stuffiness of its very own subject of historical reconstruction, especially when so much of the drama is interior. It does not help that Fassbender, Knightley and Mortensen all speak English with a certain affectation yet even that in itself is inconsistent. However, the period costumes are well-handled, and the Zurich and Vienna at the turn of the century well-captured on film.
In conclusion, "A Dangerous Method" is a restrained study of two of the greatest minds in psychoanalysis through two of the greatest actors, but at the end, there is just no point to it. Take Jung for example: at the end of the movie, it does not show how much better he is from his experiences, just that he is infallible, as all humans are, but it does not make his mistakes any more palpable. "A Dangerous Method" clearly implies that the "talking cure" is just that, as it eventually leads to the blurring of personal and professional boundaries, but also implies that Cronenberg's new restrained way of storytelling is equally so, for his "History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises" were infinitely more satisfying.Cinema Online, 09 February 2012