A Dangerous Method (2011)

A Dangerous Method (BRIT/CA/GE/SWITZ) Directed by David Cronenberg   Written by Christopher Hampton Starring Viggo Mortensen; Michael Fassbender; Keira Knightley; Vincent Cassel; Sarah Gadon

Sixty nine year old David Cronenberg re-teams with fifty three year old frequent collaborator Viggo Mortensen (who replaced Christoph Waltz) as Austrian Sigmund Freud, in this story of Freud’s friendship with the Swiss Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Set in Zurich and Vienna from 1904 to 1913, Christopher Hampton adapts his own 2002 play, The Talking Cure (itself based on Non-fiction book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr) and though the film’s stage origins are evident in the lack of scope an historical piece of this kind would most often demonstrate, what the film lacks in sweep is at least somewhat rehabilitated with excellent performances, not least among these being Keira Knightley’s turn as psychiatric patient Sabina Spielrein, a Russian Jew who later became one of the first female psychiatrists. Cronenberg/Hampton concentrate on showing us Jung’s treatment of patient Spielrein and the professional and personal bond that blossoms between them. Jung’s alliance with his mentor Freud is also detailed (mostly though letters), creating a slow build with the older, venerated Freud set in his opinions relating to the field, and Jung attempting to explore new pathways to discovery that will advance the science. Shot by Cronenberg regular Peter Schuschitzky, the film is beautiful to look at, fluidly evoking the period, though again the limited settings at times make the film feel like a chamber play. Though Knightley’s physical abnormalities are displayed with uncomfortable precision, the events involving the personal relationships dominating the film are mostly held in check, preventing melodrama from overtaking the proceedings - no easy task given a plot that seems to be straining toward it at every turn. For a production that is so professional in so many ways, the actual philosophy and methodology discussed is a bit simplistic, and there is an almost completely unnecessary supporting character played by Vincent Cassel, though the actors ultimately keep an audience interested.

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