A Dangerous Method

Dir: David Cronenberg USA 2011 99mins

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbinder and Keira Knightley

“Precise, lucid and thrillingly disciplined, David Cronenberg’s film about boundary-testing in the early days of psychoanalysis is brought to vivid life by the outstanding lead performances of Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender.” (The Hollywood Reporter)

Moving Image’s Moira Collett reviews the film: “Cronenberg’s latest film traces the development of psychoanalysis through the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Michael Fassbender) and Carl Jung (Viggo Mortensen).  The film is an adaption of Christopher Hampton’s play ‘The Talking Cure’, which is in turn based on John Kerr’s book ‘A Most Dangerous Method’. The narrative unfolds through an exploration of psychoanalytic theory arising  from the discussions between Freud and Jung, set in the context of the particular society in which they live.

In 1904 Zurich, Jung tests Freud’s theoretical ‘talking cure’ on a highly-strung, manic patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). When Sabina is at her most disturbed, Knightley manages the most amazing facial contortions, very convincing as a hysterical mental patient.  Her portrayal seems a little over the top in the early stages, but happily that doesn’t persist and overall the acting is first-rate.

Jung does not fully accept Freud’s theory that sexual repression is responsible for mental illness, but in Sabina’s case Jung quickly worked out that childhood beatings from her father were the root of her guilt about her masochistic tendencies (which he is subsequently happy to satisfy).  His analysis works, she becomes his pupil, assisting him with his work and then training to undertake research.  (She eventually became a successful psychoanalyst.)

Two years later, Jung travels to Vienna to meet Freud (Mortensen), and they start a working friendship, although the older Freud regards Jung as an upstart.  But when Freud refers an outspoken and dissolute patient, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), Jung starts to question his morality.  With encouragement from Gross, he embarks on an affair with Sabina.

What Cronenberg does so well is to make us think about the motives of the three main protagonists.  They each have a different view on the part sexual repression plays.  Fassbender and Mortensen give outstanding performances as men who accept the tight restraints of the society in which they live while holding transgressive beliefs.  Cronenberg reveals and illuminates cracks in the personalities of two great men set to change the way we regard the human mind.”

Read Peter Bradshaw’s review from the Guardian: