Seduced by the challenge of an impossible case, the driven Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) takes the unbalanced yet beautiful Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightly) as his patient. Jung’s weapon is the method of his master, the renowned Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Both men fall under Sabina’s spell. Based on a true story.
“A Dangerous Method”
8 out of 10
On the surface, this film may seem like another attempt to take attractive Hollywood stars and slam them into a period piece about forbidden romance. If you were to take it at face value it’s possible you could draw that conclusion. But, underneath all the bravura performances and sexual tension is a layered story about the trial and error of early psychoanalysis. Michael Fassbender plays Carl Jung, an early disciple of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) who takes a patient (Keira Knightley) who has deep psychological scars from her sexual repression. Carl decides he’s going to use psychoanalysis and counseling to heal her.
Now, what separates A Dangerous Method from other films of this type is that the guidebook is being written by the very men who are administering the therapy. Their code of honor isn’t set in stone and when Fassbender and Knightley engage in a passionate affair it’s unknown whether it will lead to the crumble of a science that is still struggling for acceptance within the medical community. It is directed with care and authenticity by David Cronenberg, who is mostly known for his more violent and controversial films Crash, Naked Lunch, and Videodrome. Those movies had a dark and otherworldly style. This film is gorgeous and filled with extensive period detail. I would never had known that it was Cronenberg title from viewing the frame. He also handles the relationships between the main characters with sensitivity. I was so pleased it wasn’t another film where the sex scenes dominated the story. They are important facets to the overall picture but the progression of the plot is put front and center.
The part that really hooked me was the idea that the test subjects for psychoanalysis were not only the patients but the doctors themselves. They needed to make the same mistakes that surgeons or specialists do. But, in this case, instead of it revolving around an organ, it revolved around human emotions. Fassbender makes the ultimate mistake when he decides to put his own wants and desires ahead of what is needed to further the greater good.
All of the performances are great and Knightley gets some real scene chewing spots where her character is having extreme panic attacks. But, it’s Viggo Mortensen that is the true star here. He is not only one of the most underrated and talented actors working today but he’s also one of the most under-appreciated. He absolutely disappears in the role of Sigmund Freud and should have been given Oscar attention last year. Alas, the academy so rarely gets it right.
It doesn’t all fuse together perfectly but it’s a film that adds an intelligence to the stale “forbidden romance” genre and makes me wonder what would have happened if the early Psychoanalysts hadn’t made the mistakes to teach their followers what not to do.