Putting aside some minor historical and biographical inaccuracies, "A Dangerous Method" is a marvelous film, with a bravura performance by Keira Knightly. The focus of the film is the relationship between two of the great founders of modern psychological theory, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
Freud (1856-1939) was an Austrian Jew who developed the Psychoanalytic method as a result of his work in neurology and his experiments with Mesmerism (hypnosis). He published the first of many books in 1899 and this attracted the attention of dozens of intellectuals, including Carl Jung (1875-1961), a Swiss Psychiatrist.
Jung approached Freud in 1906 and their relationship lasted for approximately 7 years.
When they met, Freud was 50 and Jung was 31. Freud was a Jew and Jung was a Swiss Reformed Evangelical. Freud was 5'7", Jung was 6'1". Jung's experience was largely based in institutions and Freud was primarily a private physician. Freud lived comfortably but was never well off. Jung had been poor as a child but married one of the wealthiest women in Switzerland. Freud was known for being faithful to his wife and Jung was well known for his affairs, one of which is the focus of the film.
Keira Knightly plays Sabrina Spielrein (1885-1942), a former patient of Jung with whom he had an affair. Knightgly is the Natalie Portman look-alike who played the decoy Queen in Star Wars (1999). From this humble beginning she went on to earn an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination for "Pride and Prejudice" (2005) and has been in such box office hits as the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise and "King Arthur" (2004). As the conflicted and vulnerable Russian Jewess, this is by far her best performance and one of the best performances by anyone.
Viggo Mortensen plays the cigar smoking Freud (who ultimately developed cancer of the jaw). Mortensen is best known for his "Lord of the Rings" films as well as some stunning work in films like his Oscar nominated role in "Eastern Promises" (2007) and "A History of Violence" (2005). His work in this film earned him a Golden Globe nomination. He is marvelously understated.
Michael Fassbender plays Jung. Fassbender is best known for his work in "Inglorious Bastards" (2009) and his Golden Globe nominated "Shame" (2011). He does a good job acting, but he lacks the stature of Jung who towered over (at 6'1") his contempories.
David Cronenberg directs. Cronenberg is known as the "Baron of Blood" for films such as "Scanners" (1981), "Videodrone" (1983), "The Dead Zone" (1983) and "The Fly" (1986). He worked with Mortensen on "A History of Violence" (2005) and "Eastern Promises" (2007).
The beautiful on location photography is courtesy of Peter Suschitzky who is a long time collaborator with Cronenberg and who also has to his credit films as diverse as "Valentino" (1977), "Mars Attack" and "The Man in the Iron Mask". The excellent musical score is from Howard Shore whose most familiar work is "Lord of the Rings" for which he won 2 Oscars and 3 ASCAPs. and who also gave us memorable work in "Big", "Silence of the Lambs", "Philadelphia", and "Se7en".
It's hard to make a compelling movie about such an academic topic as the differences in emphasis between Freud and Jung, and there a few good films about the history of psychology. Montgomery Clift's "Freud" (1962) and the Australian film "Between the Wars" (1974) are examples that this can be achieved, and here we have another fine example.
There are some problems with the film. The influence of World War 1 on Freud's death theory is ignored as is Jung's unflattering complicity with the Nazis. The use of Otto Gross as the only other analyst in the film makes one think that early Psychoanalysis was permeated with sexual perverts, when in fact there were many people involved who were there for the intellectual and humanitarian purposes.
Another problem with the film is that the enormity of Freud's message is not really portrayed adequately. In 1900, the idea that our behavior was controlled by unconscious impulses was revolutionary, and as much of a problem for Freud as his sexual theory, yet the two were intertwined. The film's focus on the sexual theory doesn't do justice to the complexity of Freud's theory nor to how controversial it was.
The film also underplays the importance that Jung's role as a non-Jew had to the "movement" and how much anti-semitism was at play for a theory that seemed to be rooted in intellectual Jewish culture.
Critics were divided in assessing the film. Roger Ebert called the film "absorbing" and said Mortensten's performance was "masterful". The Hollywood Reporter called it "precise, lucid and thrillingly disciplined", but Rene Rodrigues of the Miami Herald called the film "crushingly dull".
The film was released in late November and earned nearly $4 million in the first month, which placed it 165 for all films released in the previous year. It had an estimated budget in excess of $20 million.
Bottom line - fans of biographies and anyone with an interest in Psychoanalysis will find this film very entertaining and informative, but for the ordinary film goer it may be too much talking and not enough action.