Jung and Restless: Ryan Gilbey Enjoys David Cronenberg's Freudian Sight Gags
Gilbey, Ryan, New Statesman (1996)
A Dangerous Method (15)
dir: David Cronenberg
Halfway through A Dangerous Method, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) are standing on the passenger deck of an ocean liner as it heaves into New York Harbour in the early 1900s. "Do you think they know we're on our way - bringing them the plague?" wonders the senior doctor. With its mouth-watering promise of contagion, that line is a riposte to anyone who doubted whether David Cronenberg was a sound choice to direct a film of The Talking Cure, Christopher Hampton's play about the origins of psychoanalysis. Cronenberg made his name with goo and gore, and aphrodisiac viruses. A Dangerous Method isn't so different. Just because you can't see those elements, it doesn't mean they're not there.
Whenever Cronenberg has ventured into the medical, it has usually been through the prism of a triangular relationship - an acrimonious divorce antagonised by a psychotherapist (The Brood), or twin gynaecologists sharing a patient (Dead Ringers). The third point of the triangle alongside Freud and Jung is Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a hysterical patient brought to Jung's Zurich clinic in 1904 and treated with experimental psychoanalysis.
Hampton's script, like his play, is comprised of short scenes that echo off one another in the manner of Jung's word association games. In this context, therapy can come across more like speed dating than In Treatment The film is only three minutes old, for instance, when Jung nudges Sabina toward her first breakthrough. Modern practitioners would spin that one out for several years with the meter running.
Childhood beatings have fostered in Sabina a paralysing masochism. The sight of Jung thwacking her dusty coat with his cane is enough to send her into paroxysms of appalled delight. To be fair, this would be more vexing if Jung were played by someone other than Fass-bender, who could transform the descaling of a kettle into an erotic act.
Freud wishes to police carefully the technique he has pioneered but this proves to be idealistic, and boundaries between the personal and professional are breached routinely. …