Wednesday, January 25

REVIEW: A Dangerous Method

Directed by David Cronenberg
From Sony Pictures
1 hour 39 minutes

Michael Fassbender
Keira Knightley
Viggo Mortensen
Sarah Gadon
Vincent Cassel

As one who is very fond of true stories, biographies in particular, and one who fancies the mysteries of the mind and one who thinks Michael Fassbender is what's happening in films today, there is no way I would not like this one.  It was a shoo-in for courting my favors.

This is chiefly about the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, who is credited as the founder of analytical psychology and the time frame is approximately a 12-year period after the start of the 20th century. Jung always fought to be taken seriously as a scientist and despite writing many books he was often regarded as some sort of a mystic because of his interest in such things as philosophy, astrology, sociology and the arts.

From his world we also learn of his wife, and Sigmund Freud, and a patient in whom he took more than a professional interest.  Jung was hardworking, very dedicated to making progress in his field and well-respected by many.  The film opens as he begins treating a new patient, Sabina Spielrein, a very troubled young woman who suffers from damage administered by her father's hand.  He beat her and spanked her but we come to find out that she also enjoyed it.  Jung committed the cardinal psychiatric sin of having a personal relationship with her, in fact one involving rough sex.

Ultimately he enjoyed a cautious friendship of sorts with Freud after Jung sent him a treatise he had written.  Their relationship lasted about six years and dissolved because of differences the two men had over differing concepts of the unconscious.  Jung also believed that spiritualism was vital to a person's well-being and was interwoven into the psychology field.  Freud disagreed.  He also disagreed, naturally, with Jung's relationship with Ms. Spielrein.

Fassbender was restrained as the serious-minded Jung, showing his flaws as both a husband and a doctor.  I thought the laconic Mortensen, whom I see as an outdoorsy type more comfortable on a horse, was an odd choice for Freud but must say he cleans up well and I believed him every moment.  I have always been so-so on Knightley.  When I am on low about her, it's generally because of the odd facial movements... tics of some sort, an odd mouth, a nervous manner, but all those items were put to good use in this role as a very disturbed patient.  So bravo to the three of them and also to Sarah Gadon as a most understanding wife and mother of five and to Vincent Cassel who enormously fascinates me as an actor.

I have always enjoyed Canadian Cronenberg's directorial work.  He usually slips out of the sunshine and into some darkness; he certainly toys with behavior outside the box, with characters who are flawed, who struggle with doing the right thing.  You have enjoyed his work if you have seen Dead Ringers and M. Butterfly (both starring Jeremy Irons) and A History of Violence and Eastern Promises (both starring Mortensen). 

The subject matter of his films may not appeal to large audiences and A Dangerous Method is no exception.  It is short on dangerous and long on method.  The film certainly has a clinical feel to it, with a leisurely pace, which won't appeal to the masses.  I guess we just have to accept that psychiatrists are not ribald cutups.  Understanding human behavior is serious, if not tedious, business.

NEXT POST:  Gloria Grahame

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