The formative youth of psychoanalysis, with all of its nascent uncertainty, longing, paranoia (the field, not the patients) is transformed into a disturbingly sensual film, A Dangerous Method, by cine-maestro David Scanners Cronenberg.
If you thought you were curious about this film simply because of leading actors Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortenson, you’d only be half right. You’ll end up smitten by their characters, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, just as much as the mesmerizing performers. In the years just before the first World War, the intellectual life of eastern Europe was second to none. It was the time of Mahler, Wittgenstein, Hödler, Strauss, and hypnosis was being used as an experimental therapy on patients whose illness had been vaguely characterized as “hysteria.”
Freud was already the giant in this new field, freeing patients of their most painful neuroses by way of “the talking cure,” which was adopted in Zurich by young newcomer Jung. The great tension of A Dangerous Method, involves the deep affection between the veteran Freud and his disciple Jung, an affection that will encounter insurmountable differences and which will eventually force them apart. Yes, like all great lovers, or all fathers and sons.
The dialectic this film unfurls takes place along so many axes—male/female, gentile/jew, reason/intuition, repression/addiction—that it amounts to a rich feast for the mind, as well as the eye.
Keira Knightly, pared down to corsets, cheekbones and wild eyes, is at the center of this study of the two great analysts. Playing Russian patient Sabrina Spielrein, Knightly opens the film as a raving, screaming, exceptionally disturbed patient for Dr. Jung. Her jaw jutting uncontrollably, arms, hands, elbows stabbing into some dark unseen hell, she will become the key territory upon which both men seek to assert their theories, and eventually she will become both a colleague, and lover to Jung (a situation that will provide unsettling, if gorgeous satisfaction for the viewer)…..to be continued.