A Dangerous Method (2011)

A Dangerous Method (2011) — So there seems to be a kind of theme running through the films of David Cronenberg. They all seem to be about characters fighting something inside themselves. Now in his earlier work like The Brood and his remake of The Fly this was taken disgustingly literal. Then there seemed to be a shift in the narrative content of his films (if not the thematic content). People no longer grew strange new orifices like in Videodrome or eXistenZ. The main character in Spider was battling against his own unreliable memories (uh… spoiler?). In A History of Violence (his first film with current collaborator Viggo Mortensen), the main character struggles against his own capacity for (you guessed it) violence. In his latest film, A Dangerous Method, the pioneers of psychoanalysis fight against the things inside themselves that they diagnose in others.

I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of his depiction of the early history of the psychoanalytical field (though everything checked out on my cursory Wikipedia research afterward), but there is nonetheless a damn compelling story at play here. Based on the Christopher Hampton play The Talking Cure, A Dangerous Method tells the story of Carl Gustav Jung (Michael Fassbender from just about every film in 2011). One of Jung’s early patients is a Russian woman named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Psychoanalysis helps her overcome her rather severe condition and she aspires to be a psychiatrist herself, working alongside Jung. Jung’s work is very important to the field and he seems to be the heir-apparent to the pioneer of the whole area of study Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen, hardly recognizable). Vincent Cassel also stars as Otto Gross, another protégé of Freud’s who believes in denying oneself nothing (watching Fassbender advise sexual restraint is kind of hilarious after seeing him in Shame). Gross’s philosophy works its way into Jung’s head and things get complicated from there.

While there is some strong though non-explicit sexual content, one of my favorite things about A Dangerous Method is that it is a film more-or-less entirely driven by ideas instead of action. I realize that’s not quite for everyone but I personally found it absorbing, thought-provoking, and fascinating. The cast is pretty great across the board. Knightley’s otherwise strong performance suffers from her inability to do a convincing Russian accent (she even sounds American at a couple times). It is good to see that in addition to Mortensen, Vincent Cassel from Eastern Promises is becoming a welcome addition to Cronenberg’s recurring ensemble. Mortensen disappears into the role of Freud and Fassbender excels in the lead. Like I said, this movie is not for everyone but it’s definitely for me. A must for Cronenberg fans and fans of heady historical dramas.

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