Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen
Directed by: David Cronenberg (“Eastern Promises”)
Written by: Christopher Hampton (“Atonement”)
For all of Freud’s innumerable contributions to the field of psychology, his work has also carried the unfortunate side effect of propagating a number of misguided, outdated, and resilient stereotypes about the profession. The seemingly far-out idea of the Oedipus complex, for example, is so deeply associated as a psychological concept that some people outside of the field might not even realize that a good chunk of Freud’s work is no longer (and in some cases was never) largely supported. Still, his contributions to the field were vital and every psychology student learns a lot about the man’s professional career. However, his personal life is something that is barely looked at, even by students. His relationship with fellow psychologist Carl Jung is the center of “A Dangerous Method.” Directed by David Cronenberg, the film is a look into the admiration and eventual tension between these two titans of the psychological field.
While confronting and experimenting with the treatment of the disturbed Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), psychiatrist Carl Jung gets to interact and work along with his mentor and idol Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). As Spielreins and Knightley’s relationship extends beyond doctor/patient and Freud and Jung’s ideas begin to separate, tension rises between the three.
The element of “A Dangerous Method” that is likely to be discussed the most is the bizarre performance by Knightley. In the first half of the film, she overacts tremendously, twitching and protruding her bottom jaw causing an underbite and speaking through a poor Russian accent (when she could speak without stammering). Though the transition she makes back to sanity is a little too sudden, it is welcome, and her performance is much easier to handle when she has calmed down a bit. Capping off an outstanding year, Fassbender once again puts in a fantastic performance as Jung. It isn’t a flashy role, but he anchors the film and embodies the character very well. It truly is a travesty that Fassbender was not recognized with an Oscar nomination for any of the work he did this past year. Mortensen, albeit in a smaller role, also delivers as Freud, smoking the signature cigar in nearly every scene and playing off of Fassbender with great chemistry.
“A Dangerous Method” is at its best when it delves into the intricacies of its psychological concepts. The discussion of psychological theories and beliefs between both Jung and Freud and Jung and Sabina are interesting to listen to and the scenes where Jung performs psychotherapy with Sabina and begin to get to the roots of her problems are fascinating. The film also accurately portrays the still relevant controversial stances from Freud such as his insistence on sexual drive being vital to human psychology. Unfortunately, when the movie takes this concept and turns the film into a sexual drama, it begins to lose its luster.
Since most of the information about Freud and Jung is largely academic and found mostly in psychology textbooks, “A Dangerous Method” succeeding in providing audiences with a rarely heard of human side to both of these men. Though the second half of the film is a little less successful than the first (not to mention the fits of exaggerated acting from Knightley), “A Dangerous Method” is worth seeing for Mortenson, and especially Fassbender’s performances alone.