Movie Review: A Dangerous Method
Rating: R (may contain adult themes and activities, strong language, sexually oriented nudity, drug use and/or extended violence)
Release Date: September 30, 2011
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Genre: Biography, Drama, Thriller
Stars: 3 out of 5
Sabina Spielrein, played beautifully by Keira Knightley (Atonement, Silk), was locked up in a mental institution for a year as a teen, but somehow she became one of the first female psychoanalysts. She studied child psychology in Zurich and was elected to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Then, in 1912, Sabina proposed that the human sexual drive contained both the instinct for destruction and transformation, marking a turning point in psychoanalytical theories and practices. She died in 1942, as a result of an SS death squad. She might have disappeared from history books, but her hospital records, journals, and the letters between her, Carl Jung, and Sigmund Freud were found and published. It is believed that her work significantly influenced Jung and Freud's work.
The primary weakness of this film is that it is two intellectually demanding for a casual viewer, yet too romantic and full of drama for an intellectual. The history behind the film would appeal to the latter and is noteworthy as Sabina is part of the puzzle that is director David Cronenberg's (The Fly) "A Dangerous Method." The film follows Sabina, Jung (Michael Fassbender, "X-Men: First Class"), and Freud (Viggo Mortensen, "A History of Violence") in a story that attempts to explain the multifaceted relationship between the three. The film shows the viewer how the characters fall victim to the very frailties of the mind that they are studying.
Sabina was a violent, traumatized teen when she was placed under Jung's care, and the relationship between Jung and Sabina, which begins in 1904 and spans over a decade, is a primary focus of the film. Knightley brings intensity and power to her character, although the thick accent she gives Sabina may irritate some viewers. Jung later sits with Sabina to try an experimental therapy called "the talking cure," and she shares a childhood ruined by beatings at the hand of her father. She later reveals that she finds herself uncontrollably aroused by physical force. This is what brings Jung's colleague, Freud into the picture, as it validates his theory that emotional issues and sexuality are connected.
What starts off as a friendly, professional relationship falls apart fast, as the two begin to butt heads over their ideologies. Jung is annoyed by Freud's stubborn refusal to reconsider his theories, while Freud is disgusted at Jung's interest in spirituality.
When Freud refers Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel "Black Swan"), a former psychiatrist turned patient, to Jung's care, Jung's life changes forever. The arguments made by Gross, who is a drug addicted hedonist, cause Jung to ignore his ethics, and he begins an affair with Sabina. What begins as physical attraction turns into love for Jung.
The cast is well matched to the film, the dialogue is engaging, and each pulls their part off with believable emotion. Each word or phrase feels packed with hidden meaning, and the viewer is left trying to put the pieces together as the characters play on. Mortensen portrays Freud successfully as a cold intellectual who is uninterested in solving problems. He just wants to figure out the cause of his patients' issues. Of course, he's convinced that these issues must all stem from the sex. Mortensen's scenes with Fassbender are electric, as their dialogue effortlessly keeps the viewer rapt. Knightley and Fassbender effectively portray the passion, curiosity, and desire between the Sabina and Jung but also suggest something more twisted and sad beneath the surface.
The film feels extraordinarily slow because the action is within the dialogue. Many viewers may find it too tedious to sit through, particularly if they aren't able to focus on what is being said and the innuendo behind it. This might be considered the best or worst aspect of "A Dangerous Method." It is a film that can't be just watched; the viewer has to also listen.