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A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method

Released 10 February 2012
Director David Cronenberg

Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel
Writer(s) Christopher Hampton
Producer(s) Jeremy Thomas

United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Switzerland
Running Time 93 minutes
Genre Biography, drama, thriller
Rating 15A

A Freudian slip-up.

Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with David Cronenberg. This director’s work has been preoccupied by the beauty and horror of sex and death and at its best, has turned the human body into an alien landscape. There are few bodies of work so ripe for analysis and so fascinating. The prospect of him examining the birth of psychoanalysis and the relationship between its earliest proponents, the well-established Sigmund Freud and his younger follower Carl Jung, is a tantalising one. A pity then that A Dangerous Method is so flawed and underwhelming. Strangely, it is a film which feels chaste and cold; an intellectual outing from a man whose films work best when they teem with the corporeal.

We begin when a hysterical young woman named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) arrives for treatment at a countryside clinic. Her physician is Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), an ambitious young doctor. Since Spielrein is a highly intelligent but deeply disturbed young woman, Jung decides that she is the perfect candidate to trial The Talking Cure - a radical method proposed by Freud in which the physician simply allows the patient to talk through their problems. Jung and Freud keep in contact throughout her treatment and form a deep bond until Spielrein and Jung become lovers and the doctors find themselves morally and theoretically at odds.

Despite appearances to the contrary, this is not a film about Freud and Jung. Though it certainly touches upon their mutual respect, professional rivalry and eventual ideological split, this thread plays second fiddle to the frankly tedious relationship between Jung and Spielrein. This is unfortunate because both Fassbender and Knightley are unremarkable; one struggling to convey a flicker of emotion and the other contorting her features in a pantomime of lunacy. Mortensen meanwhile, gives the best performance and is rewarded with the least screen time. The same goes for Vincent Cassel who arrives to give the proceedings a shot in the arm as the maverick Otto Gross and all too quickly vanishes.

By Cronenberg’s standards, the film is actually rather soft, its potential impact muffled by an uninvolving romance. Though handsomely shot, A Dangerous Method is one of this great director’s most pedestrian efforts that, ironically, has the least to say about sexuality.

- Linda O’Brien