I’m a big Cronenburg fan, so I was excited to hear that he was working on a film about Sigmund Freud, someone I had studied quite intently at film school. Freud, whether you love him or hate him, is always an interesting character to portray in a movie. There’s so much scope to work with. And, on a personal level, I’ve always found Freud’s work interesting and provocative, and enjoyed reading him. This film, however, is actually centred more around Freud’s protégé, rival, friend and enemy, Carl Jung, played by Michael Fassbender. Jung’s work with a patient and soon to be lover, Sabina Spielrein, played by Keria Knightley, is the dynamic which holds the film together. The fiery relationship between Jung and Spielrein takes centre stage, a little to my surprise after watching the trailer, and Freud plays a much smaller roll than I would have hoped in the movie. That being said, there’s no shortage of interest on my part for Jung and Spielrein’s exploites. Their relationship is deeply disturbing. And I’m not talking about their extreme sexual games particularly, but that the fact that Spielrein is a patient of Jung’s. It’s a typical Cronenburg subject; it has the extreme sexual exploration of Crash – Croneneburg’s Crash not the infinitely poorer film of the same name, starring Sandra Bullock, that took home a bunch of Oscars – coupled with the sexual violence of A History of Violence. And, to make things all the more interesting, we have Freud periodically dissecting everyone’s motives. It all makes for a good movie on paper.
However, having read a few reviews of A Dangerous Method before watching it I was disappointed to see that it wasn’t getting the best feedback. The focus of complaint seem to be twofold. One, the pacing of the film was too slow, and two, the performance Keria Knightley gives as Spielrein. It’s fair to say the film is quite meandering, but I think that works perfectly for the subjects being discussed. This isn’t a Hollywood movie, things need to be digested, lingered on, and then talked through. There isn’t a lot of fast paced drama going on, it’s more of a slow burning internal conflict gripping the characters and the film does well to keep the viewer constantly interested with gentle prods and pokes in the right direction. So I think Cronenburg gets the pacing pretty much on the money. Keria Knightley’s performance is up for more debate. I do think she plays the part well, to an extent, but she seems quite miscast for the roll. I never fully bought into the idea that Knightley got her kicks from being humiliated and beaten. She seems too rigid. She’s more Austen’s Pride and Prejudice than Ballard’s Crash. The film, I feel, would have worked better with a more complimentary actress. Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, who plays Freud, however, are wonderful. They have great chemistry in their scenes together and bounce off of each other with probing barbs in a most entertaining and insightful way.
All in all it’s a fascinating film. I can see why people have hated it, you need to put some work in on a viewing level to get the film’s rewards. It’s worth it though. The film isn’t especially long at a tad over an hour-and-a-half, so you don’t ever feel bogged down in psychoanalysis. It’s also wetted my appetite for rewatching some old Cronenburg classics like The Fly, Crash, and, one of my all time favourites, Videodrome. And that can’t be a bad thing.
Marks out of ten – Eight