When it comes to the psychological aspect of film, no director is quite as successful a portrayer as David Cronenberg.
it comes to the psychological aspect of film, no director is quite as
successful a portrayer as David
Cronenberg. Films like The Fly, Videodrome and
Crash all have a wonderfully complex narrative, full of subtext and
metaphor. So when the prospect of making a film about the birth of
psychoanalysis, you would think no better director would be suited to the
production than Cronenberg. Unfortunately the marriage of the two doesn’t make
for an overly interesting film.
A Dangerous Method
depicts the relationship between Karl Jung and Sigmund Freud and
how they came to create psychoanalysis. Firstly we are introduced to Sabina
Speilrein, played by Keira Knightley.
She arrives as a patient of Karl Jung’s and is a raving mess of a person to
begin with. Her performance may be one of the best of her career but also one
of the strangest. A speech impediment, combined with bodily contortions and the
fantastic use of her jaw (which she manages to extend as if it was trying to
free itself) make her eye catching to say the least. It could be seen as
slightly problematic but when you remind yourself that this is a David
Cronenberg film, it sort of fits the bill.
She is quickly joined by Karl Jung,
played by Michael Fassbender. He vows to cure her of whatever she is
suffering from. However, rather than subject her to torturous medication he
simply states that they will talk to each other and figure the problem out for
themselves and thus psychoanalysis was born. Fassbender isn’t given too much to
do here but is reliably brilliant. Subtle and understated you can easily forget
that you are watching one of the greatest actors of a generation here. This would
probably work as a perfect double feature with Shame. Both show
Fassbender’s range as an actor but compliment each other with similar themes.
As the film progresses we witness
Speilrein turn into a more composed and intelligent woman who herself wishes to
learn more about psychology. Up to this point the film has plodded along rather
nicely, with some good exchanges between Fassbender and Knightley yet not much
has actually happened. It is only after Freud arrives, played by Viggo
Mortensen that the film begins to change direction. Freud and Jung discuss
at great length their various practices and for the most part is quite
fascinating . To see two of the worlds best actors portraying two of the
greatest minds in history is great. But talk is all they do. You never really
get to see either man at work and this is where the film loses it’s momentum.
Too much talking not enough curing.
Freud and Jung talk in depth about
sexuality and how sex can influence our actions. This leads to Jung having an
affair with Speilrein. Now, sexual identity was a large part of Freud’s
practice and is a reoccurring theme in Cronenberg’s films, so he has all the
artistic right to explore it. Once again though the film fails to do anything
ground breaking with it. Going back to films like Crash or Videodrome, sex is
presented in such a surreal and explicit way that it was completely new and
shocking. A Dangerous Method does none of this and ends up making sex look
tiresome and tedious.
What A Dangerous Method has going for
it is three great performances. Fassbender, Mortensen and Knightley do a
magnificent job with what they have to work with. For Cronenberg though this
has to be viewed as a disappointment. When you have the acting talent at your
disposal that he did for this film, to just merely have them talk to each other
and do little else is underwhelming. If this was made by a lesser known
director then maybe a fairer review would be in order but knowing the potential
of Cronenberg makes it even more frustrating. Yet saying that as a Cronenberg
fan you’d be asking for too much with this particular movie. For him to have
tried anything too extreme here may have been dishonest and disrespectful to
the people and subject he is covering. It may work for anyone who has a keen
interest in psychology but it may leave the rest empty and bemused.