David Cronenberg’s latest film, A Dangerous Method, is an inside view of the three people who were very much on the forefront of psychiatry in the early 1900s. The triangles of academic, as well as, social conflict were on full display between the main characters. Keira Knightley portrays Sabrina Spielrein, a Russian woman tortured with her own diagnosis of hysteria. Her young psychiatrist, Carl Jung, played by the seemingly omnipresent Michael Fassbender. Jung’s mentor is the world famous Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), who counsels Jung in using “talking therapy” to help his patients, specifically Spielrein.
When the movie opens we are introduced to the Jung and his expecting wife. Jung’s relationship with her is very much one of necessity. It is made very clear that he is generally unhappy with his marital situation and just goes on with it out of the routine. Jung is a product of severe repression, but we will get to that later. Jung’s life as a psychiatrist is pretty standard for the times. The methods used are cold baths, straight-jacks, etc., yet Jung yearns to try a new method. A technique that has been created and documented by his mentor, Sigmund Freud. This method in question is transference. This is achieved by what we now know as modern day psychiatry; you sit on a couch and talk to the therapist who sits behind you.
While the talking therapy, as its referred, seems harmless on the face it takes on a life of its own in the hands of the inexperienced. Jung begins to use the talking therapy on his new patient, Sabrina, when she arrives at his facility. Knightley portrayal of Sabrina is extreme here. Whether the interpretation was Knightley alone or from some historical records she plays Sabrina to an extreme degree. Personally I liked the portrayal but I could see why some found it distracting and likely just Hollywood-esque overacting. Either way, it doesn’t last too long as Sabrina is brought into the normal world rather quickly. I would have preferred to see Sabrina’s recovery flushed out a little more here. Cronenberg seemed to be more focused on the love story and less on the psychiatry that sparked it all.
As Jung and Sabrina spend more time together you begin to see their relationship develop in slightly uncomfortable ways. This is the plays backdrop to Jung and Freud’s relationship that has moved past mentor-student levels and now into full father-son territory. Mortensen’s portrayal of the stern, sometimes funny, and charismatic Freud was a pleasure to watch. He steals every scene that he is in. Freud is such a complicated historical figure, and many have serious criticisms of his views. However, Mortensen plays him just right that you love and hate who he is. This, to me, is the best type of acting to watch. When an actor can make you feel for what seemingly are villains than they have accomplished something new entirely.
The sexual relationship that develops between Sabrina and Jung is one that I think might be exploited for Hollywood extras. Sabrina is presented in a manor of a sadomasochistic. There is not much in the historical documents to suggest this and I think its put there to get the audience into the story while simultaneously keeping it sexy. Ultimately Jung and Sabrina end their affair and Sabrina goes from a submissive character to very much a woman in control. Knightley seems to try and make up for the lackluster performance in the beginning here. She really shines when Sabrina is her own woman. This, in my opinion, is where Knightley is clearly more comfortable being. She is able to put on her best Russian accent and stand toe to toe with Fassbender and Mortensen. Sometimes overshadowing their stellar performances.
Even with Knightley really coming alive in the second half of the film, Fassbender and Mortensen are the standouts here. Their relationship/rivalry is something to watch. I could watch the build up and break down of their friendship over and over again. The aforementioned skill the Mortensen displayed makes me want to see a solo film about Freud played by him. Mortensen is very comfortable in this role from the first time you see him and his quotes and etched in to my mind. Fassbender is no slouch either. He gives us a Carl Jung who is as repressed as they come. Never really being apart of his own life, but rather just living in his work, Jung is distant and yet carries on seemingly intimate relationships with those around him. Fassbender plays Jung completely straight. He never gives you the feeling that Jung has it under control. Rather that he is a wild animal waiting to get out but all he needs is the permission…from himself. The animalistic tendencies are not just in the hypersexual realm. He also seeks this permission to challenge the system, Sigmund Freud.
[easyreview title= "Review of A Dangerous Method" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]