PFF – Review: A Dangerous Method

There’s a memorable and telling line in A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg’s intellectually stimulating film about psychoanalysis pioneers Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and the affect a young female patient turned psychiatrist has on their relationship. Freud, happy to finally meet his younger disciple, is also careful to instruct him to stick with rigid scientific method through thick and thin. Jung (a tightly wound Michael Fassbender) suggests pschoanalysis should go beyond providing patients with an understanding of their neuroses and attempt to help the patient find and express his or her true self. Freud (a hypercalm and authoritative Viggo Mortensen) brushes aside this notion by declaring that science stops short of providing any solutions. “Why would we wish to substitute one set of delusions with another?” he asserts.

The essential argument in this film that superbly articulates conceptual differences is that Jung’s vision to move past Freud’s achievements and provide a wider context for human development were met by a stone wall by the movement’s founder. Freud’s insistence that every human behavior was rooted in sexuality further drew a rift between the two men, as did Jung’s notion of the relevance of the supernatural, which Freud regarded as useless “mysticism.”

Of course, what also tore the men apart after an initial harmony was the young woman, Sabrina Spielrein… Enter Keira Knightley, who at the top of the film is being wheeled into a mental hospital, having an rather torrid conniption. In the “hysterical woman” mode of the day Knightley, jutted out jaw and rolling eyes, seems to have emerged out of Cronenberg’s horror movie past. By mid-film she’s enrolled in medical school and goading Jung into cheating on his aristocratic wife and mother of his three children. Later, she’s a psychiatrist herself working for Freud who by this time, has sundered ties with Jung. The transformations are handled with piercing adroitness by Knightley. Three of the year’s best performances are contained in this film but you’ll leave it with Knightley’s prime in your mind.

There’s also a very fine supporting role by the chameleon Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross, himself a shrink and also a cocaine addict, whose personal motto is to never repress anything whatsoever. I can’t anyone think of three more different roles than Cassel’s in Mesrine, Black Swan, and now this film.

A Dangerous Method is Cronenberg’s finest film since the stirring Dead Ringers, also a film about dual natures, a subject expanded on here with Jung’s ambivalence about the nature of his impulses and the wisdom of holding them in check.

The issue of Freud and Spielrein’s Jewishness is first introduced when Freud remarks that the Vienna establishment’s predudice toward the largely Jewish psychoanalysis movement could use a non-Jew adherent as well known as Jung. Freud also suggests to a spurned Knightley, that she forget Jung and stick with her own kind. Sadly and ironically, the film’s coda announces that both Freud and Spielrein’s fates were sadly controlled by the Nazis.

9 Repressions (Out Of 10)

Leave A Comment