A Dangerous Method was just one of the many darlings of the Toronto Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival. It was brought to the Modern in Fort Worth for an early screening. It opens November 23.
The word “detachment” rarely rolls off the tongue of psychoanalysts. Yet, ultimately that is what they are asking their patients to do—detach. Talk, that is, until one can detach from pain and then talk some more until there is, well, freedom. Well said but detachment is hardly what happens in this true tale of three lives that is the subject of A Dangerous Method: Sigmund Freud ( Viggo Mortensen), Carl Gustave Jung (Michael Fassbender ) and his young mistress Sabina Spielrein (Kiera Knightly). The cast soared above the screenplay in my opinion. Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross (psychiatrist who sought therapy from Jung) was a breath of fresh air. And if the entire movie went the way of his scenes I think we would be talking classic cinema.
This saga of the birth of modern psychiatry was based on two sources: the screenplay by Christopher Hampton who adapted his stage play The Talking Cure. The play in turn was based on the non-fiction book: A Most Dangerous Method.
Sabina is unwell. And A Dangerous Method opens and fixates for twenty minutes on this bat-shit crazy patient. Who knew she could elicit such facial contortions that prompted a couple to walk out after five minutes? Kiera’s acting plateaus eventually into a less-crazy version of Sabina. That settles the stomach and one can return to crunching popcorn and sipping soda.
Sabina is the young Jewish woman carried into Jung’s office because she can’t walk in. He sees in her immediately a chance to practice the art of talking and to draft his clever and “very wealthy” wife Emma Jung (Sara Gadon) into the laboratory. Jung and Spielrein battle for her ego months on end so that she can fulfill her dream of becoming a child psychiatrist. This storyline runs parallel to the evolution of the friendship between Jung and Freud. It is not lifelong because Jung finds Freud’s “dangerous method” too sexual and breaks away.
Director David Cronenberg takes the honey bee by the stinger, while some individual scenes don’t hold up to scrutiny, the final 99-minute product borders on masterful. It may not be the best of the best but it will be a top-tier award’s magnet. The bad news: in a word the film fights itself. On the one hand, it has the bearings of brilliance and on the other hand sheer blandness.
I‘ve been a Carl Jung fan for decades. So I was enthralled by the subject matter and waited for a seat at this sold-out screening. My interest was aided by Jung’s Buddhist bent, and that he became one of the most celebrated, and longer lived, psychoanalysts in his field. In the film, Freud mocks Jung for this very belief in destiny, premonition and spirit.
Nonetheless, we are the welcome voyeurs of two men and one towering (precocious) feminist who are driven by and jammed up with a passion for drugs, sex and the freedom that went with indulging the senses to the detriment of life. What about those sex scenes? They were good too. The trio shared equal screen time so the three-way split keeps the film from truly focusing its lens. Despite the film editing one learns much about the personal foibles of four psychiatrists who chose not to conform to societal norms.
At its heart this film is about freedom, friendship, fidelity and jealousy. Freud and Jung become fast friends but Sabrina is left out. So she rights this oversight by writing Freud a letter to gain entry into his life. Her first one fails but with a more honest second try finds a method to the greatest mind in Europe. All does not end well in their personal fortunes. Jung foresees the destruction of humanity in Europe (Holocaust) and shares this dream with Sabina, who becomes one of its many victims.
This film will suit the artsy crowd to a T and yield four stars, but may not be your cup of tea if a) you are sour on psychiatry; b) hate Kiera Knightly c) can’t wait for the slower pace of an artsy film to catch fire. Aside from the film’s few flaws it has presence and brevity—the veil is lifted on early 19th century middle class Europe. I wanted more of their personal life with frankness and less shape-shifting body language and naughty sex scenes of Jung slapping pain on his mistress Sabina’s buttocks for sexual arousal. Ouch!