(Sony Pictures Classics) A Dangerous Method is perhaps David Cronenberg’s most restrained film, drawing its power from a character-driven script and stellar acting rather than brutal imagery. The famed director seems to be taking a more subdued approach in his late career, while still dealing with the same uncomfortable, taboo subjects as his earlier works. What results is a tense period drama with a hefty dose of cerebral S&M.
Based on the novel The Talking Cure and subsequent play A Dangerous Method, this film deals with the father of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his younger protégé, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). The two strike up a friendship through letters as Jung maneuvers his way through Freud’s experimental “talking methods." Jung encounters Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a devastatingly intelligent young Russian woman who happens to suffer from wild hysterics.
Keira Knightley displays her most physical role yet, jutting out her jaw and twitching with tics as she tells her doctor about her father’s physical abuse. “It excited me!” she cries out -- ashamed and yet, well, excited. Fiercely intellectual and driven to overcome her neuroses, Sabina is the heroine of A Dangerous Method. Jung, tightly wound and afraid of his obvious desires, struggles to control his inner urges.
The story begins in 1904 Zurich when Jung begins a correspondence with Freud about a spitfire patient (Sabina), leading to their meeting a few years later. It becomes readily apparent in their meetings that Freud is preoccupied with upholding credibility in his controversial field and finding heirs to pass down his scientific legacy. He refers a psychoanalyst-gone-rogue to Jung’s care -- the wonderfully defiant Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel). While a patient in Jung’s home, Otto observes the obvious tension between Jung and Sabina and pushes Jung to explore his repressed desires. With Sabina living amongst them, their relationship rotates from father-son to competitive and worse, as the three spiral downward together.
Truly the heart of A Dangerous Method lies in its ideas and performances. Viggo Mortensen’s Freud oversees Jung’s mistakes with a lofty eye and further drives the heavy Oedipal undertones of the story with dry humor. Although not in the film for too long, Vincent Cassel is the definition of a scene-stealer in his turn as Otto Gross. The sly, bemused anarchist fuels Jung’s lust and playfully comments on the repression of society – repression we still fall prey to.
Under Cronenberg’s meticulous direction and Christopher Hampton’s screenplay, A Dangerous Method owes its punch to Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley. Fassbender, already racking up the awards and acclaim for Steven McQueen’s Shame, is able to seem the stiff scholar while drumming up an inner turmoil beneath the surface. As his relationships with Sabina and Freud begin to fall apart, he becomes more and more driven by the id.
Keira Knightley explodes onscreen with fire and fervor as Sabina, and is clearly the heroine of the story. Sabina must give in to her sado-masochistic desires in order to become a psychoanalyst herself, surpassing both men in wit and her unyielding desire to conquer the mind. “Don’t you think there is a little man in every woman and a little woman in every man?” she asks Jung. Candid and demanding, sensual and spanked, Sabina is the heat in A Dangerous Method.
With all the high-collar costume trappings and terse music score, Cronenberg’s latest film is just as disconcerting as any of his other films, and even more beautiful. Propelled not only by its psychoanalytic history but also by the conflicts of race and religion bubbling under the surface, A Dangerous Method is still, above all, a Cronenberg film. He has traded physical wounds for psychological ones, and deftly creates transformation from within. This slow-burning drama is just what the doctor ordered for anyone interested in psychoanalysis and the explorations of the psyche.
For Fans Of: Memento, A History of Violence, A Beautiful Mind
Why We Like It: Keira Knightley, Oscar Buzz, Team Buzzine Hearts Sex