D: David Cronenberg. DP: Peter Suschitzky. W: Christopher Hampton (Based on his play “The Talking Cure,” which was inspired by John Kerr’s book “A Most Dangerous Method.”) Starring: Kiera Knightley/Michael Fassbender/Viggo Mortensen/Vincent Cassel/Sarah Gadon.
As the race to the Oscars commences film buffs everywhere are grinning ear to ear for their favorite season that is ripe with quality films. It is the season of drama everywhere and first on my list was A Dangerous Method.
Following the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) during the development of psychoanalysis, A Dangerous Method is ultimately about Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Spielrein was a patient of Jung’s, the first patient for him to use psychoanalysis with and to garner a good result. It is safe to say that right from the opening Knightley steals the film. Her part is not only the most challenging physically and has her sport a very convincing Russian accent, but the major story arc and character development lies with her. This is her best performance yet and is one of the major reasons to try and see this film.
It is hard to conceive of the film without Mortensen. The original Freud was to be played by Christoph Waltz who is an amazing actor, but quite different in his physicality. Having dropped out to film Water for Elephants, Waltz’s departure allowed Mortensen to step in. Mortensen’s Freud, with his consistent puffs on his cigars and deep voice provide an excellent foil to the excitability and fever of Fassbender’s Jung. Their professional clashes and tensions are chronicled very well, though much of it remains very subtle. Fassbender does well here, but who would expect him not to.
Christopher Hampton, also responsible for writing the 2007 adaptation of Ian McEwan’s Atonement and won an Oscar for 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, has impressive credits that without having written the original play material would have made a fine screenwriter choice for this project. What Hampton achieves here is a depth of understanding in his material and a devotion to character that thankfully survives in the cinematic form of his work. One of the few problems is the lack of climax of conflict in the film. Since the screenplay is so dense with speech, and it has to be as it is a film about psychoanalysis, sometimes the cinema form is not used to the fullest extent. So although it is beautifully shot by Peter Suschitzky, as an audience member one feels like you are constantly waiting for a larger clash that never comes. What is so dangerous about the psychoanalytical method? For modern audiences that should have been put in a larger social and political context in my opinion.
That being said, director David Cronenberg’s seems to be tackling the diligence in psychiatry and the silence that psychoanalysis attempted to break. The smaller scope of the film allows it to feel more realistic and hopefully with encourage its audience to focus and listen to the film. However, the performances will probably end up being more memorable than the film as a whole. Ultimately my advice for A Dangerous Method is to listen. And listen closely because you just might be reminded how we all could use a little psychoanalysis in our lives.