When David Cronenberg directs, audiences can expect elements of bizarre behavior. True to form in his latest film, “A Dangerous Method,” Cronenberg explores the relationship between Carl Jung and his mentor, Sigmund Freud.
Based upon true events, the film opens in 1904. Eighteen-year-old Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) has arrived at Jung’s (Michael Fassbender) clinic in Zurich. “Nutty as a fruitcake” is putting it mildly when describing her affliction. Jung applies a bold new treatment pioneered by Freud, then known as “the talking cure,” in addressing her condition.
After meeting with Freud (Viggo Mortensen) for the first time in Vienna, the happily married Jung returns to Zurich and begins a torrid affair with Sabina. This is instigated by patient Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), a nihilist who believes that “pleasure is simple” and one must “give into urges.” Jung discovers that the opposite is true, and the tables turn. Sabina becomes the voice of reason as Jung sinks into despair and regret.
The conversations between Jung and Freud are intellectually ecstatic. And, although the ideology is complex, a superb script by Oscar winning Christopher Hampton (“Dangerous Liaisons”) makes it discernible to the layman. Occupational hazards and over-stepping boundaries become fodder for Jung and Freud to disagree and eventually lead to Freud’s condemnation of Jung’s dangerous methods.
Cronenberg’s casting is courageous. It’s his third collaboration with Mortensen (“Eastern Promises” and “A History of Violence”) and first with the phenomenal Fassbender (“Shame”). Where he goes out on a limb is with Knightley. At the onset, I found her performance utterly overkill. Her constant jaw jutting and buggy-eyed countenance put me in a state of unease. But as the film progressed, she grew into her character as Jung’s psychoanalysis kicked in. Seems Cronenberg knew what he was doing.
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