This is an interestingly flawed movie. As a reminder, it’s about the beginning of psychiatry with Viggo Mortensen as Freud, the ever prolific Michael Fassbender as Jung and his love interest, Keira Knightly as a Russian patient, Sabina Spielrein (who went on to become the first ever femal psychoanalyst).
We greet an hysterically overacting Keira (boy, does she want you to know that she’s mad, mad, mad) who, treated with sensitivity and intelligence by Jung, practising the new and still unaccepted “talking cure” (indeed, the movie is an adaptation of a play of that name) manages to exorcize her demons. She has been beaten by her father as a child and this has left her traumatised, largely due to the guilty pleasures she experienced while being flogged.
Director David Cronenberg continues the thematic exploration he’s been engaged in with his last two movies, “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises” – the idea of freedom and repression.
Of course the subject of Freud is perfect for the development of such a topic. The film balances the idea of repression – the hysterical Keira and pretty much all of the characters in the movie – with the liberation that is offered by sexual freedom and honesty. There is a lot of -academic- discussion about the (Freudian) role of sexuality as a catalyst for human behavior versus Jung’s nascent departures into spirituality and culture as drivers of behavior.
And, as you’d expect from any move that’s an adaptation from the theatre, there’s a lot of finely honed dialog. The movie also offers the additional plus (only of course for Freudians) of a semi nude Keira being flogged.
But, for all the nicely intelligent elaboration of the meaning of human freedom, the movie is, at a human level, curiously cold.
Kiera, the patient falls in love with her psychoanalyst, the married Jung. He too falls in love with her, but (because he’s represed) lies about it. The affair becomes a scandal in the rarified circles of Swiss medicine. Jung’s hard done-by-wife (who is his key source of a vast income) is aware and also aware that her role is to grin and bear it (i.e repress it). Jung feels too guilty about his relationship and must eventually cast aside Kiera, for whom rejection initiates her crisis once again. And despite all this, she goes on to become a psychoanalyst, all with the backdrop of the War and the looming anti-semitism of the Nazis.
This is all the stuff of a powerful human drama. Here we are being introduced to two passionate persons facing the crisis of balancing love with the social conventions of the day. Here is love at its most healing and its most destructive.
But there’s no emotion in the movie – it’s a bloodless exposition of an intellectual proposition – mainly I think because there’s no connectivity between the two lead actors – Fassbender and Knightly. And also, because Cronenberg is so faithful to viewing the human drama thru the lens of Freudian sexuality that the movie never lifts off to one where we actually believe in the ‘realness’ of the people.
It’s definitely worth seeing. I think Cronenberg is a serious film-maker. “A Dangerous Method” is just a bit disapointing.