A Dangerous Method

All is fair in Love and Psychology

If it is accepted that for acclaimed male performances, 2011 was the year of Ryan Gosling, then Michael Fassbender should come in second. Goslin had Drive, The Ides of March and Crazy, Stupid, Love while Fassbender was in Shame, X-Men: First Class and A Dangerous Method. In a bizarre turn of events that now seems to sum up the similarities, both were snubbed at the 84th Academy Awards despite widespread critical praise for their performances in Drive and Shame respectively to the chagrin of many.
A Dangerous Method opens with a young woman in the throes of mania being carried to a doctor in pre-war Germany. The young woman is played by Keira Knightley and the doctor who introduces himself as Dr Jung is a bespectacled Fassbender. He hopes to cure her hysteria using a novel technique called the ‘talking cure.’ This method had only just been proposed by the older psychologist Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) with whom Jung has a cordial relationship resembling that between a father and son. In time, the young lady will be at the center of a rift between these two pillars of modern psychology as the younger doctor delves into strange new areas like telepathy to the disappointment of Freud who had envisioned Jung as his heir.
This is one of the rather straight forward efforts from director David Cronenberg and reunites him with Mortenson after their collaborative efforts on both A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. The visuals are sharp and screenplay, as expected from a film adapted from a play (John Kerr’s The Talking Cure), very dialogue driven and explores the changing relationship between both Jung and Freud taking into account two other brilliant patients and understudies, Sabina Spielrein (Knightley’s character) and the uncouth Otto Gross (played superbly by Vincent Cassel as an extension of his turn as disturbed brat in Eastern Promises and the slyly persuasive theatre director in Black Swan.) Jung becomes involved with Sabina after a conversation with Otto, who was sent to him by Freud. The sessions involving Fassbender and Knightley, which become sado-masochistic are the closest Cronenberg comes to the visceral quality in prior works, but even these scenes have a detached quality and come across as mechanical.
All of the characters are troubled and are too blind to see they need the cures they desperately seek to find for their patients. In fact, for those looking for a message, it can be summarized thus: we are all humans with frailties, even those with the responsibility with administering ‘cures’.
The movie succeeds as character studies and is also mired in it- it is not for an insufficiently educated audience and its pace can be plodding. Only the compelling ensemble cast gives it the occasional zip.
The film ends with Freud and Jung contemplating the future, in which there is war and the rise of America. Sadly, most of the characters don’t live to see the end of the war, yet each must be satisfied that their thoughts and works have helped shaped that future which we now inhabit as the present.