Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Christopher Hampton
Starring: Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Vincent Cassel
It’s been ten years since David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method was first released. It deservedly received critical acclaim upon its release. The film focuses on the relationships between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), his patient Sabrina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) and his mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). While Jung grows closer to Spielrein, his relationship with his mentor grows more fragile as time progresses.
The performances are excellent. The main trio are completely captivating. Keira Knightley goes from being a patient to expert throughout the course of the film and she’s convincing all the way through. The opening scenes with her speaking to Jung are filled with a nuanced and difficult performance, and the way her troubles seep through the person she would become later are expertly shown. Michael Fassbender is great as Carl Jung, he’s precise and calculated in his performance, and you’d expect nothing less from Fassbender.
Viggo Mortensen is unrecognisable as Sigmund Freud, his usual charm comes across and you can completely believe that this is a man who is still discussed and studied almost a century on, despite his own feelings, which are mentioned in the film, that people would still be rejecting his ideas in a century. When Freud and Jung are both on screen together, that’s when the film really shines. The dialogue is incredibly well written, to the point that even though it is a heavy subject, it feels very accessible without ever feeling pandering.
It’s a mental debate between the two great minds and listening to them discuss their ideas, despite lacking any particular knowledge makes me want to pick up a book and read more about them. They both saw the way people act completely differently, and the film does an excellent job at presenting their ideas without choosing one over another. Later in the film Spielrein puts her own ideas forward that feel just as credible. It’s a thought-provoking story.
Their relationship that becomes strained over time is one of the two main threads of the film, it’s the better side of it and one that is captivating. The other thread is the relationship between Jung and Spielrein. It starts as a doctor/patient relationship before moving to a mentor/student and then an affair. While Jung cheating on his wife does humanise him, it’s a deplorable act that’s never really reckoned with. He does lose his job amongst the scandal, and moves to America, but finds a new mistress easily enough. That speaks volumes of the early 20th century, but the effects on his wife, Emma (Sarah Gadon) is only really hinted at rather than fully shown, which would have made the film more interesting. Jung throughout the film is presented as cold and calculated and his relationship with his wife and Spielrein is just another extension of that.
A Dangerous Method makes the important figures in the history of psychoanalysis seem human and real, instead of just a series of quotes. Even though they are experts on the human mind, that doesn’t stop them from being just as messed up as the rest of us.
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