“A Dangerous Method” Review
February 26, 2012 3 Comments
A Dangerous Method (2011)
With ‘A Dangerous Method’, Cronenberg sets out a plan to immerse the audience into the world of passionate forbidden love and clever intellectual discourse on a fascinating topic of human psychiatry. The film follows a complicated working relationship between two of the most prominent psychoanalysts of the 20th century, Professor Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr Jung (Michael Fassbender), as well as shows Dr Jung’s sophisticated affair with his hysterical Russian patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).
Psychology discovers hidden meaning(s) behind human actions and thought processes. That process inevitably entails delving deep into a human psyche, discerning people’s true intentions and motivations behind certain actions. A film about psychology, psychiatry, Freudian psychoanalysis or any mental illness cannot possibly proceed successfully without exploring, or at least attempting to explore, in some depth some of the psychological concepts. In this regard, ‘A Dangerous Method’ is doomed from the very beginning. The film lacks any hint on intellectual probing into the fascinating concept of a human mind. It is clear that Cronenberg here thought it somehow unnecessary to go deep as he did, for example, in such a psychologically intense movie as ‘Spider’ (2002). However, ‘A Dangerous Method’ is precisely that sort of film where such an approach is needed.The film is really a psychoanalysis session for complete dummies. Although there are talks in the movie on such topics as a creative dream interpretation and consciousness’s defence mechanisms, unfortunately, ‘A Dangerous Method’ does not explore these terms fully or links them in any way to the story at hand.
It is true that there is, of course, Knightley’s hysteria portrayal in the movie. However, Knightley over-acts to such an extent that she hardly merits any interest. There is no clue in the film that there is anything hidden, dark or repressed going on, in a familiar fashion of Dennis Clegg’s mental disturbances (‘Spider’). In the film, during Spielrein’s first ever meeting with Dr Jung, she tells him everything he needs to know about her condition, including her private thoughts and feelings, and one cannot possibly image a more straightforward and more boring case of hysteria to disentangle. In that vein, even McQueen’s ‘Shame’ (2011) is more Freudian than Cronenberg’s ‘A Dangerous Method’ ever aspires to be. In the former film, a person’s sexuality, feelings and thoughts are fully explored in that interesting, subtle way, which leaves one wanting to know all the answers which were not given.
As many other critics rightly point out, one of the main faults of ‘A Dangerous Method’ is its muddy script. With the film containing no twists or complex and intriguing turns of events and staying only too close to historical events, ‘A Dangerous Method’ becomes a stale bore. Comparing this film to Cronenberg’s ‘A History of Violence’ (2005), we see that there is here the same preoccupation with characters, their interactions and dialogues, and less emphasis on the actual settings and special effects. However, whereas ‘A History of Violence’ has a great script with a compelling and interesting story to commend it, the plot of ‘A Dangerous Method’ is predictable and not worth remembering in any detail.
The film’s portrayal of the relationship between Freud and Jung is also contrived at best and misleading at worst. The viewer is taken through the psychoanalysts’ major points of disagreements, including Jung’s fascination with mysticism and Freud’s rigid categorization. However, the film does it in such a fashion that it has not only the distinction to be a very brief one, but also increasingly tiresome to watch.
If the working relationship between Freud and Jung is portrayed as lacking any substantial conflicts or other forms of excitement, the relationship between Spielrein and Jung is shown to be an even duller one. It is almost impossible to discern any strong feelings of affection between the two characters, and their mutual attraction seems to be a purely sexual one. However, even the main characters’ encounters in bed are presented as nothing more than instances of unexciting and brief BDSM activities, the depictions of which are ‘clinically’ and unimaginatively presented. Throughout the whole film it is very hard to believe that Jung and Spielrein’s physical attraction ever progressed to the stage of being anything more. Jung and Spielrein’s brief reunion at the end of the film, when they voice their ‘supposed’ regrets, is pitiful to watch, not least because it is hard to sympathise with Jung or Spielberg’s feelings throughout the movie.
On a positive note, Mortensen and Fassbender give terrific performances, and especially extraordinary is Mortensen’s transformation into the authoritative Professor Freud. Knightley, having a difficult role to play, also improves immensely as the film goes on, although her linguistic abilities in faking a Russian accent leave much to be desired. Vincent Cassel is also good in the role of Otto Gross, a doctor and subsequent patient at Burghölzli, whose liberal views towards sexuality and his explicit opposition to monogamy help Dr Jung overcome mental constraints regarding his extra-marital affair with his patient.
‘A Dangerous Method’ has stunning imagery, but what really stands out in this film are the sporadic flashes of humour. These really are breaths of fresh air after, for example, a ten-minute tedious, no-end-in-sight dialogue. Also, as is Cronenberg’s custom (‘The Fly’ (1986), ‘A History of Violence’), ‘A Dangerous Method’ does not run long: it is slightly over 95 minutes and with the film’s proportion, with the plot stretching from early 1900 to the First World War, there is hardly enough time to open up or explore the characters fully or show the intensity of their inner/outer conflicts.
With all due respect to Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method’ could have been so much more than it actually is, especially taking into account such a fascinating working relationship to explore and such an interesting topic as psychoanalysis to play with; the film only becomes enjoyable in an intellectual or emotional way if one mentally accords to this film much more meaning that it is actually there. 5/10