Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: A Dangerous Method (2011)

This holiday weekend I saw a very un-holiday film, A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg.  Two of the main characters are men whose work has penetrated our subconscious and certainly our vocabulary in the modern world, yet I think I’m not alone in knowing little about their lives.

Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender

The film follows two separate storylines that intersect through one of the lead characters, Carl Jung, played by Michael Fassbender.  In 1904 Jung takes on a young woman patient at a Swiss clinic, Sabina Spielrein, played by Keira Knightley.  Spielrein is a brilliant but extremely troubled woman who plans on becoming a doctor.  Jung decides to try Freud’s talking cure with her, the first time he has done so with a patient.  He is successful in returning her to a productive life and encourages her studies to become a doctor and psychoanalyst.  The two eventually become more than doctor/patient and friends, a relationship that complicates life for the very married Jung.

Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen

The second story is the relationship between the older founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, played by Viggo Mortensen, and Jung, the younger and ambitious colleague. The two men finally meet and initially become close friends.  Freud becomes Jung’s mentor and convinced he’s found his heir apparent to carry on his work after he’s gone. Jung first sees Freud as a father figure and collaborator and cultivates the relationship.  As the film progresses it focuses more on Jung’s disagreement with Freud’s theories, and the development of his own school of thought. Their relationship is ruptured and yet always connected by their personal and professional relationships with Sabina Spielrein.

There are some great performances in this film from the leads and supporting actors.  Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung goes from self-contained doctor and perfect family man to out-of-control lover so perfectly you are riveted any time he is on screen. Viggo Mortensen gives one of his best performances as the “legend” that is Sigmund Freud and brings to life this brilliant man with very human failings.  The scenes between Fassbender and Mortensen are the best in the film.  Supporting actor kudos goes to Vincent Cassel as Freud protégé and Jung patient Otto Gross.  Sarah Gadon is also convincing in a small role as Emma, Jung’s rich and respectable wife.      

Vincent Cassel

Less successful is Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein.  Knightley as an actor lacks subtlety and this makes her performance more than a bit over the top.  She’s a bit more convincing in her final scenes in the film as she reins in her performance and becomes more believable as the character.  I also felt there was not enough chemistry between her and Fassbender to make us believe the inevitability of their relationship, though Fassbender is excellent at portraying passion and sexual obsession.

Michael Fassbender and Sarah Gadon

I highly recommend this film though it is definitely not for everyone. It deals with very uncomfortable and very human subject matter.  Thanks to two very good actors and good performances Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung come down from their pedestals and become people living with the same temptations and shortcomings as the rest of us.  

A Dangerous Method is based on the play The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton, with wonderful music by Howard Shore.  Method was filmed in Vienna, Zurich, and other beautiful locations.  The film is rated R.   

Update: "Bonus" Interview about the film with Viggo Mortensen.


  1. Hi Fabo, thank you for this review.

    I would suggest a movie poll: how many movies can Keira shot in one year? 5, 10, or more? Amazing productivity of such a young actress, isn't it?

    I was only joking! The relationship Jung/Spielrein seems to fascinate the Italian directors very much. We had already two made by renowned directors: one in 1991 by Carlo Lizzani (Cattiva - Bad girl) and one in 2002 (Prendimi l'anima - Grab my soul) by Roberto Faenza.

    Both very good films with partially British cast.

  2. Enjoyed your review Fabo. I'll be sure to catch the film at some point and will get back to you with feedback.

    Happy New Year to you and all!

  3. @LadyCassia Hi! Like your idea of a movie poll about Keira. There always seems to be an actress every generation who gets the period film role, and that is certainly her now. Thanks for the name of the Italian films, I'm going to see if they're on Netflix.

    @Ricrar Hi - I'm glad you liked the review and would love to get your feedback when you watch it. Happy New year!

  4. If you're looking for another Cronenberg film I can recommend "Spider" with Ralph Fiennes as the title character, Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson and John Neville. Fiennes is stunning.

  5. @jazzbaby1 Thanks for the info on Spider - haven't seen it either, will look for it on Netflix. So many movies, so little time...

  6. @Baur Hello and Welcome! Thank you for the encouraging words Baur.


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