A Dangerous Method (2012)

10 February 2012

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A Dangerous Method. On the eve of World War I, Zurich and Vienna are the setting for a dark tale of sexual and intellectual discovery.  Drawn from true-life events, A DANGEROUS METHOD takes a glimpse into the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein, the troubled but beautiful young woman who comes between them.  Into the mix comes Otto Gross, a debauched patient who is determined to push the boundaries. In this exploration of sensuality, ambition and deceit set the scene for the pivotal moment when Jung, Freud and Sabina come together and split apart, forever changing the face of modern thought.

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“Tells an interesting story, both stimulating and captivating for the viewer, yet it struggled to combine such drama and intensity with its thought-provoking plot…”

David Cronenberg may have to wait a while longer for his first Oscar-nomination, with A Dangerous Method a potentially fascinating, yet quite lacklustre feature film.

Airing at the BFI London Film Festival, A Dangerous Method - inspired on factual events, tells the story of the intense relationship between psychologists’ Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), with Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) at the heart of events, as Jung begins a sexual affair with his emotionally unstable patient, all of this in sync with the founding of psychoanalysis.

Cronenberg’s latest feature certainly tells an interesting story, both stimulating and captivating for the viewer, yet it struggled to combine such drama and intensity with its thought-provoking plot – failing to find a middle ground between intellectual complexity, and accessibility.

Aside from the intriguing facial hair on show, particularly Mortensen’s offering, the film had a few too many flaws which prevented it being the movie it so could have been, especially with such a talented line up of filmmakers and cast members.

Firstly, I found it incredibly frustrating that Knightley was the only character putting on an accent – as Spielrein, of Russian heritage. However, the other characters simply spoke with English accents. This bothered me due to its inconsistency – I feel that in a serious study of such a period of time, it must be decided that the characters either speak with accents of those they are portraying – or all speak in English, not both.

Also, I know we’re supposed to think that Knightley has put in a fantastic performance as the mental patient, but as far as I’m concerned, it couldn’t be more of the opposite. A series of wailing and crying does not automatically make it an inspiring performance. I found the role exasperating, and completely over-acted.  I may be in a minority, but I’m not convinced at all.

However, the same certainly can’t be said of Fassbender. His performance, just as it always seems to be, is highly impressive. He caught the cerebral side to Jung, but made the character personal, showing an idealistic, romantic soul behind the academic façade. On a side note, I’d love to know what Freud and Jung would think of Fassbender’s sexually obsessed character in upcoming feature Shame – I’m sure he’d be quite the subject.

Another misgiving I had was also regarding the character of Spielrein, who began the film as a mental patient, whose illness was so strong and inherent it seemed almost incurable. However, with little emphasis on her treatment by Jung, her transformation from psychopath to psychoanalysis seemed quite hasty and unexplained.

It’s an interesting drama, and mentally challenging, with, Knightley aside, strong performances from the cast – including a fun cameo by Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross.

But overall I just don’t believe enough happened, and at the very end of the film when it tells the audience what became of all of the leading characters – their stories seemed to become even more enticing as time went on - leading me to believe that although portraying three highly-intriguing characters, it may have just been done at the wrong period of time in their lives.

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