A Dangerous Method: movie review
David Cronenberg's 'A Dangerous Method' is a talky period piece about Freud and Jung refining their psychoanalytical approaches, with a romantic interest played by Keira Knightley thrown in.
Liam Daniel/HONS/Sony Pictures Classics/AP
The friendship and ensuing rift between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) is the heart of David Cronenbergâ€™s â€śA Dangerous Method,â€ť a surprisingly tame and talky period piece from a director best known for his high-art gruesomeness (â€śThe Fly,â€ť â€śDead Ringersâ€ť). The talkiness derives from screenwriter Christopher Hamptonâ€™s play â€śThe Talking Cure,â€ť which in turn is based on John Kerrâ€™s 1994 non-fiction book â€śA Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Freud, Jung and Sabina Spielrein.â€ť
Spielrein, played by Keira Knightley, was a Russian-Jewish woman originally under the care of Jung in 1904 at the Burgholzi hospital outside Zurich. Using Freudâ€™s methods, he was able to eliminate her seizures and hysteria. Though married, he also entered into an affair with her. Spurned by him, she became a patient of Freudâ€™s, eventually becoming a prominent psychoanalyst in her own right. Thereâ€™s a lesson to be learned here somewhere, if you can find it.
The casting of Fassbender and Mortensen is certainly offbeat. (A hypothetical ad line might read: â€śPsychoanalysis just got hunky!") The performers are proficient at playing historical figures without turning into waxworks, especially Mortensen, whose sly enactment of Freudâ€™s low-key superciliousness is the filmâ€™s highlight. His best moment comes when he and Jung are about to arrive by ocean liner in New York to attend a conference and Freud chuckles, â€śDo you think they know weâ€™re on our way, bringing them the plague?â€ť
Low point would be Knightleyâ€™s hysterical opening sequences in which she appears to be trying to trying to contort herself into a Moebius strip. Overacting this gross can only have been enabled by a director. Didnâ€™t Cronenberg look at the rushes? Or did he think he was back in â€śDead Ringersâ€ť territory? Knightleyâ€™s performance calms down eventually, and a good thing, too. If she maintained that early pace, she would have burned up the couch and herself along with it. Grade: B- (Rated R for sexual content and brief language.)