A Dangerous Method


Written by Amelia Abraham
31 Monday 31st October 2011

If Freud advocated the primal desires that reside within us all, David Cronenberg does the exact same thing. The filmmaker attempts to offer his audience the truth of the ructions between these three revered intellectuals, unveiling their innermost emotions, their sexual and violent urges. These are not the faces that stare out from textbooks, these are faces contorted by jealousies and betrayals.

The result is at times a gruelling watch; the camera lingering relentlessly on a hysterical Spielrein as she recalls the way in which her father beat her before making her kiss his hand in gratitude. “And how did that make you feel?” asks Jung. “I… I… I… liked it” gasps Spielrich, and finally… it’s starting to sound like a Cronenberg film.

Having eventually “cured” Spielrein with the infamous “talking cure”, in a converse and slightly Oedipal turn Jung basically replaces her father by entering into a sadomasochistic affair with her. This undoes all his hard work and renders her ill again after he changes his mind in an “I should never have whipped you” kind of way. Naturally Sabina is distraught that there is no one to whip her, so she tries to get Freud to do it. This obviously spells the beginning of Jung and Freud’s angry letter arguments, which they pretend are about the contestation of “rigid pragmatism” in the psychoanalytic practice. It’s all quite complex, but you should keep up.

Dealing with public figures, renowned in history, there is always a danger of portraying them as two-dimensional, inhumane and unconvincing. But A Dangerous Method’s fallible heroes are quite the opposite - everything from the milk in Jung’s moustache to Freud’s overwhelming pride serves to remind you that these are real people with basic flaws and egos to boot. It does not go unnoticed that Freud does not like to visit Jung’s superior house, Cronenberg endowing the narrative with subtexts that undoubtedly bore importance to events, such as this class discrepancy.

The script also assures the looming presence of an Aryan versus Jewish tension which poignantly foreshadows the respective fates of the protagonists come the First World War: Jung to professionally thrive while Freud was driven to London by the Nazis and Spielrein killed by them. 

Although about as weighty as any Cronenberg number, this one comes with mischievous wit, particularly manifesting itself in the form of neurotic satyromaniac, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), who attributes Freud’s fixation (pardon the pun) with sex to his “never getting any”. A whirlwind of audacity and carnality, Otto bowls into the narrative from practically nowhere to immediately assume position as the devil on Jung’s shoulder and encourage the stiff-lipped Swiss to abandon his morals and shag Sabina. Just as we were getting bored - thank god for Otto, the catalyst that recovers A Dangerous Method from its middle lull.

Filmed at Lake Constance and other such nice places, the film is about as good-looking as Michael Fassbender. When asked about the cinematography, Cronenberg claims that decisions naturally came to reflect the subject matter, his organised shots and succinct framing befitting a period that was at once elegant and controlled. In fact, despite a bit of bad CGI when Freud and Jung arrive in America (you will wince), this film is extremely aesthetically pleasing; it is manicured, tidy.

As well as feeling visually considered, the film’s script is crafted with intelligence. Adapted from Christopher Hampton’s play 'The Talking Cure', the script successfully raises the relevant questions surrounding psychoanalysis. Freud’s concern that Jung is “replacing one delusion with another” perhaps illustrates the more epistemological problems at the heart of the film.

“What is sanity?”, “Who defines it?” and “Who gives these maniacs the right to dictate what mental health is (especially as they are each described at one point as neurotic themselves)?”. Christ, by their standards we’re all mad. A Dangerous Method raises more questions than it gives answers, and we feel that provocative is good.

Now, if you are of the school of Knightley haters you might want to give this one a wide berth; expect overacting (Oscar desperation?), a dodgy Anglo-Russian accent and wildly distracting chin gymnastics (you’ll see). Although equally, if you are of the school of Knightley haters you might want to see a film in which she is repeatedly flagellated. Either way, she actually probably deserves a break for this performance; in a role that deals with the scatological, sadomasochistic, and hysterical, she’s done a pretty good job. Mortensen and Fassbender are strong yet subtle and Cassel is on form as ever. If anything, the cast are a little bit better than the movie.


A Dangerous Method comes out on 10th February 2012

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at panic@dontpaniconline.com and we will respond asap.