A Dangerous Method
Directed by David Cronenberg
Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
How long is A Dangerous Method? 99 minutes.
What is A Dangerous Method rated? R for sexual content and brief language.
Analyzing The Analysts:
Cronenberg Slows It Down With Excellent Results
What makes David Cronenberg stand out from his contemporaries is how he has seamlessly transitioned from the surrealistic likes of The Fly and Videodrome to character dramas such as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, though pieces like Crash and Dead Ringers exquisitely balance his two paths. However, what defines Cronenberg’s nearly 40-year long career is his obsession with, well, obsession. Whether getting hooked on bug poison, intermingling sex and car accidents, developing bizarre gynecology instruments, protecting one’s family/identity, solving a mystery, or stopping a crime syndicate, his best characters tend to showcase the alluring and destructive passion of obsession without serving as a cautionary tale. This is not to say that his main figures don’t end up at low points, but once they discover their raison d’être we understand why it’s impossible for them to ever put it aside; these people don’t get addicted, they get transformed.
Set at the dawn of psychoanalysis, A Dangerous Method is one of Cronenberg’s quieter affairs, despite dealing with two of the greatest thinkers of the last century, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Freud, already in his older years, has some followers of his controversial “talking cure” and many detractors. Jung, one of Freud’s disciples, applies this treatment at his clinic in Switzerland where it proves especially useful in aiding his young, manic patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). His successful treatment of her attracts the attention of Freud, and the two begin a cordial relationship/friendship with the elder serving as a father figure to his heir apparent.
As the main character, Jung is the most Cronenbergian and thus is plagued by the greatest neuroses, but while his insecurities help explain him and his actions, they do not define him. Although the film is very dialogue heavy, probably more so than any of the filmmakers’ previous works, Jung is also the most repressed of the three main characters and the least willing to defend himself to others. Nevertheless, the film does a superb job of showing, without telling, how life is not a simple collection of causes and effects, but a balancing act of risks and rewards constantly playing out in one’s mind. The inferiority he feels around Freud does not need to be stated, because it can be felt. His attraction and later affair with Sabina is not merely lust, but emerges from the intellectual stimulation she provides him, as well as his curiosity towards applying the pro-hedonistic guidance of another therapist. Some of the scenes between Jung and Sabina are simultaneously hotly passionate and coldly scientific in the way only Cronenberg can pull off.
Although based on a true story and real events, this film thankfully does not function either as a biopic or as a “costume drama.” A Dangerous Method does not purport to serve as a psychology primer, and it delves into theories only insofar as it relates to the story at hand. Freud and Jung aren’t icons, they are men. When they talk or analyze dreams, it’s not with some lofty pomposity, but as researchers and analysts curious about life rather than wanting to prove their smarts; you know they’re geniuses without having to be told they are. There is a lot of unspoken, though not passive-aggressive, tension between the two, and while it comes mostly from Jung’s end, it makes their interactions all the more fascinating to watch.
Concerning himself with these complexities of “humanity” is also one of Cronenberg’s strongest suits. In Dead Ringers, there wasn’t a good Mantle twin and a bad Mantle twin- there were enough “good” and “bad” elements in both to render those terms meaningless when it came to analyzing them or their relationship. Similarly in A Dangerous Method, Freud isn’t just a calm, wizened professional nor is Jung merely a nervous, young upstart. They both have their own issues, but Freud is better at controlling himself and/or maintaining the facade. The break between Freud and Jung occurs for a myriad of reasons, ranging from Jung’s fascination with mysticism to Freud wanting to protect his ideas. Additionally, Sabina isn’t just an insane person who becomes “normal.” Even after she leaves the clinic and moves onto medical school, there’s still a crazed manner to her. It’s less that she could “crack” at any minute, and more that the remnants of her dysfunction believably linger and remain ingrained in her personality.
Along with creating beautiful looking films, Cronenberg is one of an actor’s best directors. Despite the intensity and the introspection required by most of his characters, he almost always seems to bring out the best from his leads. Definitely one of his more performer-centric creations, A Dangerous Method continues the trend by boasting some of the greatest performances of all three stars. Aside from the aforementioned Fassbender, Knightley does what is probably her best work and Mortensen gives a lot of sly, comic subtlety to his role.