For over 30 years, David Cronenberg has woven tales of protagonists determined to push their sexual and psychological boundaries. Such a journey can transform them into an entirely different being, but when faced with an entirely new world, they occasionally hide in the shadows, wrestling with their decisions.
From the surface, A Dangerous Method is the story of the gradual disintegration of the relationship between psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his mentor, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). But such a conflict is mere window dressing for the film’s deepest tragedy.
When 18-year-old Russian beauty Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) enters Jung’s Zurich clinic in sheer hysteria, he believes Freud’s talking cure method is the key to her return to mental stability. While working with Spielrein, Jung develops a correspondence with Freud, who is fascinated with the case but more importantly, realizes Jung could serve as his protege (their initial meeting, which includes a 13 hour talk session, impresses the cigar smoking Austrian).
Treating Spielrein, however, is more than just a job for Jung. As she confesses her sexual arousal from her father’s beatings and expresses her dream following a career akin to Jung’s, the Swiss psychiatrist questions his placid domestic life (Sarah Gadon plays his wife) and wonders if he should, as patient Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) suggests, succumb to his temptations. And when Jung takes the plunge, his sadomasochistic interludes with Spielrein, replete with satiated lusts and a tinge of violence (spanking and drawing blood should count for something), becomes his mind’s obsession. Below is a scene from A Dangerous Method, which features the initial encounter between Spielrein and Jung:
Jung’s interest in parapsychology and his theory on synchronicity illustrates his continued thirst for exploration, and maybe his separation from Freud, who demanded sheer adherence to his own theories on sexual drive, was inevitable. Unfortunately, Jung’s fidelity to social mores is his Achilles heel. With A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg theorizes Spielrein was Jung’s entry to a deeper way of living, but that chance passes him by.
Keira Knightley gives a bravura performance as Spielrein, a woman determined to follow her passions at the risk of self-destruction. It’s a work that recalls her seductive ferocity in the otherwise forgettable Tony Scout outing Domino and her heartbreaking turn in Atonement (which was penned by A Dangerous Method screenwriter Christopher Hampton). It’s easy to see why Jung and Freud are both drawn, in their own complicated manner, to Spielrein, a force of nature who, in today’s world, could be deemed as their equals.
Unfortunately, much of Spielrein’s influence on the development of psychoanalysis were only discovered through her personal journals and correspondence with the two men. With A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg continues to unearth stories that challenge our own perceptions and psyche. Fans of A History of Violence, Crash, Dead Ringers, and Eastern Promises, who also want the requisite Cronenberg-ian (it’s kind of a word I made up, sorry) touch of sex and brutality won’t be disappointed with A Dangerous Method. Everyone is dressed to the nines (it’s early 20th Century Vienna and Zurich for Pete’s sake!), but they reside in Cronenberg’s mind which, considering his superior cinematic output, is an unnerving yet thrilling place to live.
**A Dangerous Method opens today in New York and Los Angeles.
A Dangerous Method: Starring: Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortenseon, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Gadon, Vincent Cassell. Director: David Cronenberg. Screenplay: Christopher Hampton. Based On: Christopher Hampton’s stage play The Talking Cure and A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr. Director of Photography: Peter Suschitzky Editor: Ronald Sanders. Composer: Howard Shore. (Rated R, 99 minutes)
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posted by Greg Srisavasdi