Title: A Dangerous Method
Directed By: David Cronenberg
Written By: Christopher Hampton from his play “The Talking Cure” and John Kerry’s book “A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein”
Cast: Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Gadon, Vincent Cassel
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 9/21/11
Opens: November 23, 2011
There were always people who did not believe in psychoanalysis and, given the length of time a proper therapy takes (consider Woody Allen’s perpetual role as analysand) the treatment most favored today is 6-months’ cognitive therapy. Pete Seeger satirized the profession of psychoanalysis with his song “Dr. Freud,” one stanza going, “He analyzed the dreams/ Of the teens and libertines/ And he substituted monologues for pills/ He drew crowds just like Wells Sadler/ When along came Jung and Adler/ They said ‘By God there’s gold in them thar hills.'”
No quick method of therapy was available until recently. Freudian and Jungian analysis now costs more than the twenty Swiss francs charged by Carl Jung around the turn of the Twentieth Century, but then, Jung, at any rate, got services from at least one of his patients to qualify as a neat fringe benefit. In adapting a play “The Talking Cure” by Christopher Hampton and John Kerr’s book “A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein” (available at Amazon for $16.95), horror mayven David Cronenberg delivers a mostly cerebral account of the relationship among two shrinks and a masochistic Russian patient. While the movie is mostly talk with only a vague notice of music on the soundtrack, it does feature Keira Knightley in the most off-the-wall scene of her career, one that’s so psycho you would think that she had been tortured every day for a month to justify her squirms, her screams, her stubbornness, causing her to be held down by three or four of a institution’s staff.
Knightley performs in the role of Sabina Spielrein, who, declaiming that she was sexually abused and humiliated from the age of four by her father, becomes a raving looney at a mental hospital outside Zurich in 1904. Though to my knowledge people who are psychotic or in the throes of psychotic rage or schizophrenic withdrawal cannot respond to psychology’s talking cure, under the care of Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) she retains a few shticks (like the desire to be whipped) but becomes normal enough to enter medical school and become an analyst herself. In fact in a role reversal she liberates a repressed Dr. Jung—who in almost every scene wears the European style of clothing which includes a neck-tight white shirt, black tie, black suit and watchband. Jung has a bourgeois wife, Emma Jung (Sarah Gadon), and a couple of infants but, during an affair with his patient realizes that sex had become routine with Emma as it does “for people living under the same roof,” and that life offers more than monogamy. When Jung meets the great master, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), voluntary whippings and sex take a break to make way for talk talk talk, on one day continuing amid Freud’s perpetual cigar smoking to last for a straight thirteen hours.
As if Fraulein Spielrein were not catalyst enough to turn the prim, mustachioed Jung into a tiger, he is sent one Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), a coke addict who instills Jung with the belief that nothing should be repressed, certainly not the natural desire for sexual contact.
As pleasant as it is to watch the beautiful Keira Knightley’s character deflowered and whipped—in scenes that are hardly even soft core—the real pleasure of the film is the dialogue, but then again we’re dealing with a screenplay by Christopher Hampton, best known for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” which became the movie “Dangerous Liaisons.” Horror fans may be disappointed that Cronenberg does not replicate “Crash” or “EXistenZ” or “The Fly” but he proves quite competent in directing a historical piece which is exquisitely photographed in Cologne, Vienna and other European locations by Peter Suschitzky—a Cronenberg favorite responsible for lensing “Dead Ringers,” “Naked Lunch,” “M. Butterfly” and others. It difficult to put Carl Jung on a pedestal knowing that he appears responsible for starting the trend of taking sexual advantage of his patients, perhaps with the excuse that sex between doctor and patient will liberate the latter. The period design is splendid and tight-fitting costumes immaculate. “Dangerous Method” was featured at festivals in Vienna, Toronto and New York.
Rated R. 99 minutes. (c) 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Overall – B+