A Dangerous Method

Art & Culture

Critics complaining that this film is too talky are like people who wish that Yul Brynner had long hair. It's a talky film because it's based on a stage play, and is concerned with the early years of psychotherapy, which was known as the talking cue. The expression 'duh' springs to mind.

We are at the dawn of a new era and a new century. Young analyst Carl Gustav Jung (Michael Fassbender) is working diligently at a Swiss clinic, seeing patients and operating along the lines recommended by the great Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), for whom he has the utmost respect. A new patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) comes to see him. She has a bad case of what used to be known as hysteria, and in the course of her treatment not only does she have an erotic projection onto Jung (quite normal), but he reciprocates (bad idea). Married he may be, but he is nonetheless thrilled by her desire for him and the accompanying transgressive behaviour (spanking included).

In due course, Jung and Freud meet, and form a father/son relationship, but the complications which ensue with Sabina come between them, as well as more profound philosophical and intellectual disagreements. These might be summarised thus: Jung would agree with Hamlet that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Freud, on the other hand, thinks everything is rooted in sex, and has no patience for dreams, spirituality, intuition or such mumbo jumbo. These are all well-attested facts, as is the existence of Spielrein. This is not a film that takes liberties with history. Whether it fulfils what you look for in an evening's entertainment is another matter.

From my perspective, good actors with a good script, based on real people/events which incorporate fascinating and relevant ideas is my idea of a good time, so I was very happy with Cronenburg's film and Christopher Hampton's script. You can discuss whether Knightley's initial behaviour is convincingly portrayed (I had no problem with it), or whether Vincent Cassel's Otto Gross is yet another of his charming monsters (I had a feeling of having seen it all before), but the central dynamic of the film is compelling and well told. Freud and Jung were two of the great thinkers of the 20th Century, and a film about their relationship, and their falling out is long overdue.

Ignore what the sniffers say. This is good stuff.


Phil Raby
Front Row Films
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