A DANGEROUS METHOD Review

I will be the first to admit that I am not a David Cronenberg follower. I have seen snippets of his last two films also starring Viggo Mortensen but have either fallen asleep or not been able to finish them. I hear nothing but great things about both and before you cry foul know that it is not because I think his work unworthy. I actually have found most of what I've seen intriguing but more importantly a real craft and passion for the story he is telling. This comes especially in hand with "A Dangerous Method" as Cronenberg delivers a film all about ideas that can hardly go a scene change without documenting some kind of ideological speech that is being given. It is a talky film, but one that is relentlessly engaging. For a film that is essentially discussing the root causes of human behavior and the psychological meanings of it all the film is very matter of fact. Presenting its ideas in a way you don't have to dig to discover meaning in. It is clear the director has a fascination with the mind and Freud's ideas that sexual drives are the primary motivational forces of human life. Which leads me to wonder why, despite this presenting countless interesting theories, that passion that seems to be evident in Cronenberg's desire to tell the story actually ends up delivering a film that feels more cold and distant than any of the bits I have seen from his other films. Don't get wrong, I found "A Dangerous Method" both troubling and complex but in the end it was not exactly entertaining; something that wouldn't factor in if you were writing a research paper, but still counts when you're making a movie.

Freud (Viggo Mortensen) attends to his student Carl
Jung (Michael Fassbender) after he receives a difficult patient.
The film opens on a frantic Keira Knightley as she is taken from a train on her fathers request and put into the care of Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Knightley as Sabina Spielrein is what seems to be an impossible case for the young doctor Jung; a student taught in the ways of his mentor Sigmund Freud. I was unfamiliar with the story that is supposed to be based on fact before seeing the film but it can essentially be summed up in a way that makes it sound more like a cliché-laden romance novel than it actually is. The script was adapted by Oscar-winning writer Christopher Hampton from his play, The Talking Cure which certainly suits the film more. The studio no doubt adjusted the title in what both they and I expected to become a more uneasy, S&M film at the hands of Cronenberg but instead the main conflict comes not from the actions on screen, but in the theories and dissections of dreams that are carried out between Jung and Freud. The simplicity of the overall plot is elevated when Jung begins an affair with what the film portrays as his cured patient in Spielrein that has a taste for the rough stuff. Now, clearly this exercise in breaking societal rules has an effect on the discussions Jung and Freud have, but the forward approach to the analytic process hardly compliments the plot. This causes a kind of disbandment in the tone of the film that is only brought together by the period clothes and set dressings.

Sabina Spielrein (Knightley) and Dr. Jung break a few rules
of the doctor/patient agreement. 
What elevated the film for me, besides the fact the debates are extremely interesting, was in fact the great performances. I had heard many complain of Mortensen's casting as Freud before the film debuted but Cronenberg clearly has an affection for Mortensen who is more than a capable actor. He plays Freud with an air of regal arrogance that is justified by his level of intelligence. It is a fine supporting role and one that may not be as influential in the film as you might expect. The real surprise here for me was Knightley, who we've seen in a number of period roles before but here she pours her heart and soul into Spielrein. In the first ten or so minutes of the film after being taken from the train and forced to complete a session with Jung she nearly comes out of her skin with rage and an irritable tick that doesn't sell us short on the fact there is something wrong with the woman. It is in fact almost too much, but thankfully Knightley brings it down a few octaves and by the time her and Jung begin to get it on we see her performance go from showy to down right cunning. In what is a more interesting piece of casting in Fassbender is that in ways Jung compliments his character in the drastically different but similarly themed "Shame". His character in "Shame" could easily have been one of his patients in "A Dangerous Method" and though I haven't seen the Steve McQueen film yet it almost seems Fassbender's character there would resemble Otto Gross (the always appealing Vincent Cassel) another of Jung's patients that opens his eyes to the restrictions of our delusional society. Fassbender has had quite a year with his role as Mr. Rochester in "Jane Eyre" and a young Magneto in "X-Men: First Class" and he continues to deliver excellent work here with a commanding performance that though not as flamboyant as Knightley's keeps up with hers at every turn.

Jung goes from a young idealist to a cynical vet through-
out the course of "A Dangerous Method".
I didn't expect to get your average movie-going experience with "A Dangerous Method" and that certainly came true, but while I did prepare myself for somewhat of a lecture, a discourse of academic thinking spouted by credible actors in fancy costumes, I didn't expect it to be so appealingly forward. Appealing might be the wrong word as the film is pretty open about its discussions and thoughts on sex and its nature, but the fact remains we all have desires and dreams that can be analyzed and interpreted many different ways. What this film does is extend a glimpse into the minds of some of the more famous neurologist's of the late twentieth century. Cronenberg dresses his actors and sets in stark blacks and whites making it a classy but colorless landscape that is also slightly bland, but allows the visual style not to over take the content of the words that are so often expressed. "A Dangerous Method" features some great performances and plenty of interesting ideas but if you're not up for a talky drama you might find yourself more bored than invested.