I know I’m not the only one waiting for David Cronenberg to go back to his roots. The man previously known as “the Baron of Blood” gave us the head-exploding Scanners and the fingernail-popping The Fly. However, of late, ol’ Davey Croners seems more about “prestige” pictures than flesh-crawling horror. I’m not even a huge fan of horror, but I’ve always admired Cronenberg’s way making things/ideas/images stick with you, like a splinter in your brain. This is something which I haven’t really experienced with his latest output. Unfortunately, A Dangerous Method continues this trend and even struggles to contain anything memorable at all.
A Dangerous Method is based on the play A Talking Cure, which in turn was based on the book A Most Dangerous Method, which in turn was based on real, actual life that bloody well happened. The story follows the career of renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), genital obsessed beardo Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a woman who went from a certified maniac to becoming one of the first female psychoanalysts. Having only a passing knowledge of Jungian and Freudian principles and no previous knowledge at all of Spielrein, I felt the story was immersive, but only up to a certain point. I wanted to know more about Sabina, but had to deal with Jung and Freud debating whether everything boiled down to cocks or not. Both Fassbender and Mortensen were great, with the mercurial Mortensen giving an especially enigmatic turn as Freud. Less great is Knightley, who spends the first act of the film gurning and maniacally laughing like real mental patients don’t. I have yet to be convinced by a Knightley performance and her appearance in A Dangerous Method doesn’t do anything to change that. She’s not necessarily a bad actor, just bad at making me forget she’s an actor. Vincent Cassel also shows up, having a whale of a time as the philandering, polyamorous Otto Gross.
A Dangerous Method is basically a stage play writ large. There’s nothing inherently cinematic about it and the film seems to work best when the various brainy people are endlessly arguing the inner workings of the mind and psyche. I liked some of the ideas the film toyed with and especially liked Jung’s turmoil over his relationship with Speilrein. The mentor/friend/rival relationship between Freud and Jung was well done too. To me, repression is the big central theme of the film, with Sabina’s BDSM leanings being too shocking to even consider in the early 1900s. Jung’s repression is also important, with him struggling to contain his wild side and having to choose between animalistic rutting and spanking with Spielrein or the more socially acceptable nicey-nicey family life with his obscenely rich wife.
I just don’t know what to really think of A Dangerous Method. It’s well acted (for the most part) and deals with some interesting concepts. It made me want to find out more about the real story and the people, but I wasn’t exactly entertained watching it. There’s no sense of Cronenberg in this film and it could have been made be any number of the more “arty” directors out there. It’s technically brilliant, but ultimately unsatisfying.
A Dangerous Method Trailer Published via LongTail.tv