Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Dangerous Method

Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung and Keira Knightley as his disturbed patient, Sabina Spielrein in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method

***1/2 out of ****

This is a very interesting story of three characters who represent the beginning of institutional psychotherapy. Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. The third person is someone I had not heard of until I saw this film. Actually I don't know very much about the history of psychotherapy, so I can say that I found this film constantly informative. 

A Dangerous Method is a film fueled by conversation. The interactions between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud are competently performed by Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortenson and there is an excitement to watching their theories develop. What is more interesting is that a product of their new direction for finding remedy for mental illness is Jung's patient, Sabina Spielrein and how the story suggests that she may have walked away with a more refined concept of psychoanalysis.

Speilrein is played with great devotion by Keira Knightley. In the early stages of the film her character is mad and creates an uncomfortable presence as she contorts herself physically with great tension while attempting to sit still in a chair and discuss thoughts she'd rather hide.

Some of the movies most profound scenes of dialogue involve Jung and another patient, the anarchistic Otto Gross, played by Vincent Cassel, who seems to be addressing the inner struggle of the films characters: Their refusal to find personal liberation with their findings. His beliefs give Jung temptation to follow his natural impulses and indulge his sexual urges for Speilrein.

I don't think that the central drama of the film is as strong as the ideas and the characters behind it. I am still amazed at how David Cronenberg can make such seemingly plain movies in terms of his cinematic approach and keep my intense interest. He's a director who doesn't storyboard. He figures out what kind of shots he wants on the day of the shoot. He has always been interested in the internal side of things whether it's a movie like this or a man transforming into a fly. It's no surprise to me that he wanted to make a movie about these people. Working screenwriter with Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) was an interesting collaboration since Cronenberg films tend to be light on dialogue and this film is very dialogue driven.

I intend to see this film multiple times because it seems to offer a lot worth exploring.

Here is an interview with Christopher Hampton about the history behind the film.

and here is Cronenberg at the Venice Film Festival.

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