Magazine article Screen International

A Dangerous Method

Magazine article Screen International

A Dangerous Method

Article excerpt

Dir: David Cronenberg. Canada-UK-Germany. 2011. 99mins

An elegant and absorbing chamber piece of the film, David Cronenberg's delve into the turbulent relationship between psychiatrists Carl Jung and his mentor Sigmund Freud and the talented but troubled young woman Sabina Spielrein who comes between them, is beautifully watchable and driven by a series of thoughtful and stylish performances.

Knightley delivers an impressively nuanced performance that highlights Sabina's intelligence and charisma.

Screening in competition at Venice, it is a cool, mannered and perfectly structured film (it leaves you wanting more rather than less) with fine performances from Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen and an easy visual grace. It is film with sex and sensuality at its core, and while Keira's on-screen spanking antics will no doubt attract a certain press attention this is a film resolutely about the mind.

Adapted by Christopher Hampton from his stage play The Talking Cure (the term for the early development of psychoanalysis) the film treads an intelligent and dialogue-heavy route through a complex subject, with scenes set mainly in treatment sessions, static conversations and letter-writing, though there are also some delightfully staged exterior sequences which make great use of stylish Austrian and German locations.

A Dangerous Method is a film that could well attract attention in awards season - it has the intellectual pedigree and high performance level to justify nominations, and while perhaps too mannered and highbrow to attract mainstream audiences it has the capacity to be a heavily talked-up film. Cinematography, costumes and production design are all quite sublime.

While the relationship between the up-and-coming Jung (Fassbender) and the legendry Freud (Mortensen) is the overarching story, at its core is the young Russian Jewish woman Sabina Spielrein (Knightley) and the controversial treatment she undergoes at the hands of Jung as he seeks to treat her deep-rooted psychological issues.

The film opens in dramatic style as a screaming and flailing Spielrein is carried into the Burgholzi Clinic in Zurich in 1904 and into the care of 29 year-old Carl Jung, who at this stage is dabbling with Freud's experimental theories. Disheveled, raging and convulsing, Spielrein is encouraged to share her early memories of a physically abusive father and her sexual responses to his beatings, with Jung a calm and caring sounding board.

Two years later, Jung travels to Vienna to finally meet Freud (Mortensen, sporting a prosthetic nose and chain smoking cigars) to discuss theories and the Spielrein case in particular. So begins a wary but close relationship between the two men with Freud charmingly unwilling to go too far beyond his own theories and Jung pressing to extend the boundaries of their discussions.

Freud asks Jung to meet/treat a fellow psychiatrist Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), who - in a plot device that feels oddly simplistic - expounds his distain for the concept of monogamy and enthusiasm for sex in general just as Jung finds Sabina enthusiastic for their relationship to extend beyond that of patient and doctor. Despite a content - though cold and old-fashioned - relationship with his wife Emma (Sarah Gadon), Jung finds himself drawn to the vibrant, willful, intelligent and certainly beautiful Sabina.

Before you know it Jung and Sabina are in an intense sexual relationship, fuelling her masochistic desires with a little light spanking on the side and with Jung regularly filled with self-doubt as he analyses his ethics rather than embracing his lusts. …

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