ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT FILMORIA
David Cronenberg’s latest film follows the forming of the relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), and it’s subsequent descent into chaos on the arrival of the unbalanced but alluring Sabina Speilrein (Kiera Knightley) into their lives.
A Dangerous Method is a film about the birth of psychoanalysis, but it is far from the dry, academic film it could be. Sabina Speilrein arrives at the hospital spitting, growling and laughing maniacally and it is not long before she is paired with Fassbender’s Jung who decides to try talking therapy – or psychoanalysis – on the disturbed young woman. Kiera Knightley treads a thin line between unintentional comedy and compelling drama in her portrayal of Sabina and her disorder. Just as she reaches a point where the performance could tip in the wrong direction, however, Cronenberg manages to pull Knightley back from descending into un-PC comedy.
Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, as Jung and his mentor Freud, go through various stages in their relationship. At first Jung is awed of his older, more accomplished colleague before becoming more like his son and heir, then surpassing him entirely and moving in a different direction, one that Freud does not agree with. Both actors portray historical giants in a humble and quiet manner. At no time is the audience forced to remember that these are men that changed the course of medical history; instead, these are people going through their own period of discovery, as much of the self as the world as a whole.
Jung’s relationship with Sabina goes through a similar arc to his with Freud; at first she is his patient, then his lover and finally his contemporary. In the relationship between these two characters – and Vincent Cassel’s Otto Gross – the film is allowed to explore sexuality from the instinctive to the taboo, while also connecting sex with the erotic power of ideas and the morbid fascination with death.
While Sabina is the character that sets this whole triangular relationship in motion, this story belongs to Jung; he is the pivot that everyone circles around and Fassbender controls the screen with ease. Cronenberg is arguably best known for his horror films, and although A Dangerous Method may hide behind the idea that this is a period drama, it is too a horror film. The horror is the demons within each of the characters, but instead of fighting these demons in a eerie and gory manner, these characters talk about, examine and finally succumb to the issues that plague them.
With A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg has produced a calm and cerebral film that – like his characters – has a lot going on underneath the surface. Michael Fassbender is quickly proving himself to audiences while showing he is anything but a one trick pony. In this film, Fassbender is a thinking man, seemingly unaware of his own feelings until made aware of them by those around him. He is quickly undone by allowing his body to take over from his mind. Viggo Mortensen plays Freud with a quiet intensity and Kiera Knightley – once her character has recovered from her delusion – allows her accent to slip and becomes a wildly intense but relatable character.
In all, A Dangerous Method is a human story, and one that the audience knows by heart; man has an affair, friend disapproves, this time however, the affair is merely the backdrop to a deeper relationship that eventually effects every character on screen. The film is as unnerving as one would expect from a Cronenberg film, but far from being unrelatable and filled with lofty ideas beyond the grasp of the audience member who has not read Jung’s work, A Dangerous Method shows the world we know in a way that we can understand. This is precisely what is so unsettling about this film; this is the world we live in.