Top positive review
Clash of the psych titans
on February 23, 2014
"A Dangerous Method" is a movie that disserved by its trailer -- it looked like a movie that focused on Carl Jung having an affair with a masochistic mental patient. Well, yes, that does happen. But David Cronenberg's movie is less about the love affair and more about Carl Jung's fraying friendship with Sigmund Freud, and Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender give exquisite performances. Sadly, Keira Knightley isn't up to their level.
Sabina Spielrein (Knightley) is incarcerated at a Swiss mental hospital, where she is psychoanalyzed by Carl Jung (Fassbender) -- and soon he is able to pinpoint the cause of her masochistic sexual behavior. Soon she's not only acting normally, but is studying to become a doctor herself.
Pleased by her progress, Jung speaks about her to the eminent Dr. Sigmund Freud (Mortensen), who views Jung as a surrogate son and heir to his well-regarded theories. At the same time, Jung continues working professionally with Sabina as she develops her own psychoanalytic theories -- and the two of them develop a passionate attraction.
Jung initially is reluctant to cheat on his loyal, beautiful wife. But after a sex-addicted psychoanalyst (Vincent Cassel) exhorts Jung to follow his urges, he falls into a passionate affair with Sabina. This throws a monkey wrench not only into his personal life, but it begins to interfere in his friendship with Freud -- and as Jung insists on following his own theories about myth and archetypes, his friendship with Freud begins to fall apart.
It takes a director as brilliant as David Cronenberg to not only get a movie like this made and released in theatres, but to keep it from becoming dull. Most of "A Dangerous Method" is made up of conversations about the human mind and how it works, slowly showing the audience that psychoanalytic theories are not really about the patient -- they are all about the shrinks and how THEY see the world.
And yet Cronenberg makes every scene, every conversation feel intense and sometimes passionate, no matter how dry the subject matter is. He makes you feel the intense passion of Jung and Sabina as they natter about their theories, contrasted to the rigid condescension of Freud. Things are intense even in a funny scene where Freud exhorts Jung to talk about kinky sexual practices at the dinner table.
And while Jung's sexual/intellectual affair with Sabina is important, the most important relationship here is the friendship with Freud and Jung, which flowers briefly before slowly decaying. Fassbender and Mortensen are absolutely spellbinding here -- one is a uncertain but passionate doctor who is seeking to explore new terrain in the human mind, and the other is an older, more entrenched man who refuses to explore different theories.
But Keira Knightley was not the right actress for this part -- she's not subtle enough to go toe-to-toe with Mortensen and Fassbender. Any displays of emotion look cartoonish and exaggerated, with her twitching and yo-yoing jaw. Even in the scenes where Sabina is composed, she feels over-the-top compared to the others.
"A Dangerous Method" is a very cerebral, "talky" movie, but it also is a powerful look back at the men and women who created psychology as we know it today. And while Knightley is embarrassing, Fassbender and Mortensen are astounding.