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Suffering from hysteria, Sabina Spielrein is hospitalized under the care of Dr. Carl Jung who has begun using Dr. Sigmund Freud's talking cure with some of his patients. Spielrain's psychological problems are deeply rooted in her childhood and violent father. She is highly intelligent however and hopes to be a doctor, eventually becoming a psychiatrist in her own right. The married Jung and Spielrein eventually become lovers. Jung and Freud develop an almost father-son relationship with Freud seeing the young Jung as his likely successor as the standard-bearer of his beliefs. A deep rift develops between them when Jung diverges from Freud's belief that while psychoanalysis can reveal the cause of psychological problems it cannot cure the patient. Written by
When Jung and Freud sail to America, the Statue of Liberty they pass by has a golden torch. But the statue's original torch, in place till 1984, had portholes in it which were illuminated from within. Not until 1986 was the current gold-leaf covered torch installed. See more »
Given his entire filmography is concerned with themes linked to man's identity and the complexities of human sexuality, David Cronenberg is, on paper at least, the ideal director for A Dangerous Method, a movie dealing with the birth of psychoanalysis. Then again, the film is also a bit of an odd fit for him, since the script by Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) doesn't really lend itself to the outbursts of graphic violence that permeate the Canadian auteur's body of work. The result, first witnessed at the Venice Film Festival (after the film had allegedly been rejected by Cronenberg's fest of choice, Cannes), is an interesting but somewhat hollow entry in the director's admirable career.
Ostensibly about the professional relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), A Dangerous Method is in reality more concerned with the bond between Jung and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a young woman sent to his clinic in Zurich since her mental condition is an ideal subject for his research. Sabina, it turns out, is incredibly well-read, and soon progresses from patient to assistant, much to the amusement of Freud, who corresponds regularly with Jung about their mutual scientific interests and also meets the young woman on a few occasions. The relationship between the three evolves in even stranger ways as time passes, with Sabina taking an unexpected place in Jung's heart...
With its combination of psychoanalysis and sex, the story - perhaps familiar to European film buffs thanks to Roberto Faenza's Italian-language take on the same subject - has all the right characteristics to be vintage Cronenberg (hints of which are offered in the opening and closing credits via Howard Shore's music). And yet there's something missing: whereas the reconstruction of Vienna in the early 20th century is impeccable, the director appears to be less interested in the actual development of story and character, with a rather detached approach that suggests he's almost working on autopilot. That having said, part of the blame can be laid on Hampton, whose screenplay only glosses over key details of the story, leaving us with a quite simplified, "safe" version of events (the sex is unusually tame and unchallenging for a Cronenberg film).
The performances are a mixed bag as well: Knightley, stuck with the showy role, is unbearably OTT in the first 30 minutes, shouting and shaking endlessly before she eventually tones down the mania and focuses on finding the character, complete with a solid Russian accent. At the other end of the spectrum is Mortensen, pitch-perfect from the start but criminally underused, especially considering his past associations with Cronenberg. And then there's Fassbender, quietly intense and generally up to the task, were it not for his decision to speak RP English when he and Mortensen, who adopts a German accent, are supposed to be from the same country (this is even more perplexing if one thinks of Fassbender's flawless mastery of German).
A Dangerous Method is thus a textbook case of a film that, while not disappointing in the strict sense of the word, comes off as a minor effort in a generally spotless filmography. But even on an off-day, Cronenberg deserves to be seen at least once. Just don't expect another History of Violence...
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