I had the opportunity to attend the Los Angeles premiere of David Cronenberg’s new film, A Dangerous Method, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. Unfortunately, none of the stars made the trip due to other engagements, but Cronenberg and his producing partner, Jeremy Thomas, introduced the film, and a few celeb sightings in attendance included Peter Fonda, Thomas Jane, and William Mapother.
A Dangerous Method is the story of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), his mentor, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a Russian Jewish hysteria patient admitted to Jung’s care. The movie is a continued departure from Cronenberg’s history of twisted storytelling. I dare say he’s gone soft in his old age, as many directors do. In this day and age, we can hardly view S&M as shocking, and the S&M displayed in this movie is tame compared to some modern day fetish scenes. Here Cronenberg has created a solid straight-forward story of friendship and love, with a little bit of nudity and spanking for good measure.
As he introduced his movie, Cronenberg emphasized his need to bring the era to the audience, to smell Freud’s cigars and Jung’s pipe. The story begins with a hysterical Sabina brought to the hospital where Jung practices in Zurich. Fassbender plays Jung as an uptight genteel man completely obsessed with finding the proper methods to treat patients of sexual deviance and abuse (and with his hair slicked back, note his ridiculously large earlobes). His intense concern for his work pulls him further away from his rich, attentive wife (played by Sarah Gadon) whose own goal in life to to give her husband a son in the hopes that the child will win back his affections and attentions. As Jung further pulls Sabina out of her hysteria and into her acceptance of her deviant sexual needs, he finds himself needing validation from the man whose methods he has studied, admired, and questioned, so he travels to Vienna to meet with Dr. Sigmund Freud. Their mutual respect and differences of opinion cause Freud to send Otto Gross to Jung’s hospital for treatment. Played with great aplomb by Vincent Cassel, Otto Gross is a Freud disciple who takes Freud’s methods a step too far with his own patients. The impact Gross has on Jung catapults Jung down a path of released repression and desire, beginning with his own patient turned student, Sabina.
Fassbender’s and Mortensen’s, as well as Cassel’s and Gadon’s, portrayals of their characters engage us throughout A Dangerous Method.
I am still not sold on Knightley’s acting. Her convulsions and twitches in the beginning of the film made me think to myself, “She’s going for an Oscar.” Don’t get me wrong, Knightley has to contort, convulse, and spew her words in a Russian accent, so her role as Sabina is not easy, but she is one of those actresses I can say is consistently good, not consistently great, and it doesn’t matter whether she’s robed or disrobed. Fassbender, Mortensen, and Cassel take on their characters like a second skin with no question they are the characters they portray.
Freud and Jung finally draw the line in their friendship after they travel together to the States. Pay no attention to Mr. X’s visual effects for the New York coastline and ocean water because I am sure the budget was minimal and the time was short. Sabina is somewhat in the middle of this rift, but it is mostly the stubbornness of Freud that turns Jung away from his methods. We are left with a lost psychoanalyst prior to his true historical greatness.
Although I say Cronenberg has gone soft, he still knows to how to direct talent and engage an audience with his characters. The story is carried by the direction of Cronenberg, the cinematography of Peter Suschitzky, and the talent of Fassbender and Mortensen. Any fan of Cronenberg should appreciate the film, and anyone unfamiliar with Cronenberg’s work may find it intriguing enough to dive into his catalog of riskier fare.