Thursday, January 26, 2012
It's Carl Jung vs. Sigmund Freud in A Dangerous Method, the talky new drama of ideas from David Cronenberg. But despite what you see on the poster and in the preview trailers, the dueling doctors are not involved in a love triangle over a woman.
Yes, there is a woman involved, the historically significant Sabine Spielrein (played with overwrought intensity by Keira Knightley), an early patient who went on to become a doctor in her own right, and a colleague to both men. Here, she's introduced as a patient of the youthful Jung (Michael Fassbender) at a Swiss clinic in 1904, whom he treats using Freud's radical "talking cure," or "psych-analysis."
Later, Jung journeys to Vienna to meet his idol, Freud (a marvelously wry Viggo Mortensen), who anoints the younger man his "heir" in the field. But ultimately, the two men split over the direction of psychoanalysis; the fastidious Jung objects to Freud reducing every disorder to a sexual cause, while Freud scorns the "superstition" of Jung's interest in telepathy and religion.
In this atmosphere dominated by discussions of sex, repression, and libido, the uptight and married Jung's decision to take the eager Sabine as his mistress seems more like a case of going with the flow, rather than an act of desperate passion, despite the "ambivalence" of his relationship with his, wealthy wife. (While Sabine's need to be spanked—vigorously and often—to get excited, dating back to early abuse by her father, seems to bear out Freud's theory.) It's also a little creepy that these sequences seem to validate the 19th Century notion that a "hysterical" woman was best cured in bed.
Interpersonal relationships have never been Cronenberg's strong suit, and what's missing here is an emotional center to sustain viewers through all the theoretical debates (and perfunctory sex). That Christopher Hampton's screenplay is adapted from his own stage play, "The Talking Cure," as well as from John Kerr non-fiction book, "A Most Dangerous Method" also contributes to the screen story feeling both rushed and fragmented. Still, the talk is often interesting, it's fun to watch the doctors psychoanalyze each others' dreams, and Vincent Cassel is terrific in a few brief scenes as bad-boy analyst/patient, libertine, and agent provocateur Otto Gross.