David Cronenberg gets Dynamic…Psycho Dynamic [Review: ‘A Dangerous Method’]

Written by Chris Beaulieu October 15, 2011

By Christopher Beaulieu

David Cronenberg gets dynamic… Psycho dynamic.

The trailer for A Dangerous Method makes too much sense. The moment I heard the words “Professor Freud” followed by Vigo Mortenson holding a phallic cigar in true Freudian fashion was the moment that I knew I had to see this film. Then the name David Cronenberg appeared to seal the deal.

Based on the play The Talking Cure, this third Cronenberg-Mortenson pairing makes high expectations for itself—many of which are fulfilled, some of which are not. The film centers more around psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) more than it does Freud, who serves as a somewhat antagonistic force as the two begin to collaborate their work.

The dynamic between the two keeps things interesting throughout the film, as Freud is portrayed as a paranoid and uncompromising man who he sees Jung as his rational, yet somewhat naïve counterpart. The main relationship of the film however, is the one that emerges with Jung and his new patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightly). The young Russian woman with sexual repressions eventually becomes Jung’s apprentice, and soon after, his mistress.

This is where the strength of the film’s acting comes into play. Keira Knightley’s role calls for a Russian accent, which is a little jarring at first, but becomes normalized as the film goes on. The real highlight of her performance is the way in which she portrays her symptoms, as she chokes on her voice and protrudes her jaw during moments of uncontrollable anxiety.

Another great performance in the film comes from French actor Vincent Cassel, who plays a sex-addicted, drug-snorting, trouble-patient that Freud sends to Jung; a case study of unrepressed behavior.

The building tension and repression of these characters is integral to the film’s overall story. Each character, no matter how small, has some inner emotion, desire, or thought that is kept bottled up inside. Jung in particular continually questions whether he must repress his natural self to conform to the norm of society, or indulge his desires; there is a constant ultimatum to starve either the body or the mind. The issues brought up about monogamy, fidelity, and what is considered rational and normal behavior is both fascinating and challenging, even by contemporary standards.

The theme of repression is carried visually through Cronenberg’s static and controlled shots. There is an interesting visual motif that occurs whenever Jung analyzes a patient: A split-focus diopter focuses both on Jung and his patient, displaying his fragmented and conflicted state of mind, leaving everything else in a haze.

The most difficult thing to conclude about A Dangerous Method is how it should make its audience feel. The entire film is spent building conflict and tension between the characters, with the expectation that we will be drained of this tension in a cathartic climax. However, there is no dramatic outpouring of emotions at the end of the film, leaving the audience filled with unresolved feelings. Perhaps the most genius, yet most frustrating element of A Dangerous Method is its repression. Cronenberg makes the audience feel the same discomfort of his repressed characters by depriving them of an emotional release (something that he has used in his films before, which I believe to be intentional).

The repressed nature of the film is an excellent artistic statement, but is something that not every audience member will appreciate. It’s difficult to form an opinion then, when a film’s greatest feature can potentially be its greatest drawback. What can be said conclusively is that A Dangerous Method is a film with strong performances that will put the audience in the shoes of its characters, sometimes, uncomfortably so.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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About Chris Beaulieu

When Chris isn't studying film, reading English literature, fencing, or watching re-runs of Frasier on TV, it's because he's writing awesome reviews for We Eat Films.

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