Review: A Dangerous Method (2012)

“Sometimes you have to do something unforgivable… just to be able to go on living”.

Seduced by the challenge of an impossible case, the driven Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) takes the unbalanced yet beautiful Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) as his patient in A Dangerous Method. Jung’s weapon is the method of his master, the renowned Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Both men fall under Sabina’s spell

I have been long awaiting David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method to get a UK cinema release; the films plot seemed to be a perfect fit for Cronenberg’s sensibilities and the cast near excellent. The plot concerns the friendship that forms and than deteriorates between pioneers of psychoanalysis Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, surrounding the theory’s that both men are forming and specifically one of Jung’s patients, Sabrina Spielrein.

Cronenberg creates a claustrophobic circle around his three leads that detaches them from the surrounding world. The theory’s that both Jung and Freud are forming and using on their patients don’t just make both men excited, it also get the audience going, so it would have been nice to see a couple of these patients and working practises throughout the film. Cronenberg is no tourist and his decision to keep the films locations firmly in the backdrop are understandable; Vienna though a hundred years ago was an exciting city and a cultural hub in central Europe, and some scenes set in and around the city would have been interesting and appreciated.

The production design in this film is beautiful; perfectly complimented by Denise Cronenberg’s elegant costume design and DOP Peter Suschitzky’s lighting each new location looks more enthralling then the last. Cronenberg keeps his camera restrained for the majority of the film and lets scenes play out with a minimum amount of cutting and shoots from conventional camera angles. To stage a film mostly set in small confined rooms, where a quiet stroll through hospital grounds equates to most of the films action, is always a brave move. Originally adapted from an award winning play (Itself adapted from a book) this film was already going to face criticism that is to ‘stagey’ but the high production values really do lift it above this.

If this sounds like the ‘enfant terrible’ of cinema has grown up and matured into a conventional film maker don’t panic too soon! Cronenberg does not shy away from the darker elements that surround the work off all three leads, and the complicated personnel relationship between Yung and Speilrein. The camera is voyeuristic during the sexual scenes between Yung and Spielrein and shoots looking through windows or creeping around corners. And yes, just to get it out of the way there is spanking!

Cronenberg has brought together an impressive cast and Knightly shines out amongst them. Her convincing Russian accent shows research and extensive rehearsal (Something that will come in handy for the film adaptation of Anna Karenina she has just finished shooting with Joe Wright). Knightly nicely creates a buffer between Freud and Jung and really creates a backbone to the film. Both Fassbender and Mortensen turn in well played performances, although I couldn’t quite get my head around Fassbender’s Irish accent.

A Dangerous Method is an accomplished film and has been un-fairly looked over this awards season in the Production and Costume design categories. Both Jung and Freud impose upon the film like huge mythical creatures, and it is the trouble Cronenberg has navigating round these imposing men which becomes the films major downfall. By the films ending I was not sure I knew any more about psychoanalysis than I did at the start, and even Jung himself still seemed like an enigma to me. This is a fine addition to Cronenberg’s catalogue of work, just unfortunately not a great one.

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