A Dangerous Method

The early days of psychoanalysis are presented in this restrained drama. The year is 1904 and Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung treats Sabina Spielrein for psychosexual dysfunction in Zurich. She is admitted to the Burghölzli mental hospital there. Although she is initially a patient of Jung, she later becomes his student in the study of psychology. Their attraction as well as Jung’s tense friendship with Sigmund Freud – the founder of psychoanalysis – is highlighted. As his protégé, Jung utilizes Freud’s methods. Even their differing views in the world of psychiatry are explored.

If nothing else, A Dangerous Method is notable for Keira Knightley’s memorable portrayal. Sabine is a beautiful but unbalanced woman suffering from unorthodox sexual desire. It’s an incredibly mannered achievement full of facial tics and uncontrolled fits. Contorting her face with a severe underbite that looks positively unsettling, she chews the scenery but not in a displeasing way. I found her hypnotic. It raises the story to something beyond mundane biography. Without her manic representation, the whole pursuit would have been rather boring.

The rest unfolds in a rather pedestrian manner. Michael Fassbender continues his streak of remarkable roles in a single year. Carl Jung and Sabina’s relationship as doctor and patient develops in the predictable story arc of a soap opera. Yet his scenes with Knightly are compelling because of her. Their connection forms the most integral affiliation of the film. The professional relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud is examined as well but none of that is especially exciting. Viggo Mortensen is adequate as Freud in a studious performance. Yet I wonder if original choice, Christoph Waltz , might have been better. I found Mortensen’s interpretation underwhelming as he failed to capture my attention with an already underwritten character.

Despite the underlying topic of sexuality, the undertaking is surprisingly retrained for a film by David Cronenberg. Low key account is straightforward and quiet. That’s surprising in a drama where unconventional sexual impulses and sadomasochistic tendencies essentially form the basis of the story. I struggled to maintain interest at times. It’s a movie where the very discussion of ideas is supposed to be more shocking rather than the actual depiction of anything scandalous. Talky cerebral approach is admirable for its sophistication. I give the film credit for subtlety and precision, but it’s also kind of routine. See it for Keira Knightly. If not for her presence, the whole affair would have been rather forgettable.

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7 Responses to “A Dangerous Method”

  1. I’m not a fan of Kiera…she has a weird face. Speaking of her weird face, it’s not much of a stretch with exaggerated underbite in her portrayal of Sabina, since she has one herself. I haven’t seen this but it sounds like from your review that your performance is what humanized what otherwise could have been a rather cerebral and heady, and thus, boringly clinical, topic. Good to know she’s continually developing her range as an actress. I’m still on the fence about viewing this one. I think it’s also cool that there didn’t seem to be unnecessary gratuitous sex scenes due to movie topic that would have underscored the nuanced performances garnered. You know I have a crush on Fassbender and I’m glad to see him continue to get roles in which he always seems to do smashingly well! (that’s my best british accent there!) Really great composition in your review Mark.

    • Keira Knightley is very good in this, but I can understand why her performance might annoy people here. It’s very affected. With that said, I have been a fan ever since I first saw her in Bend It Like Beckham.

  2. Wow, this one looks complex. Absolutely no desire to see it, despite your well written review.

  3. A very well acted movie. I didn’t know it was a true story, beforehand. An early history of psychotherapy.

    • As I understand it, A Dangerous Method is from Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure, which was a fictionalized account of the non-fiction book by John Kerr, A Most Dangerous Method.

  4. This seems like the kind of movie I would enjoy, I will check this out some time. Nice review.

  5. Your last paragraph sums up the reason i didn’t appreciate this movie as much. Good review Mark. well articulated as always.

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