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A Dangerous Method - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
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"Experiences like this, however painful, are necessary and inevitable; without them, how can we know life?" One of the great scientific minds of the 20th Century, Sigmund Freud - along with prodigal son Carl Jung - gives birth to psychoanalysis David Cronenberg's latest dark venture, A Dangerous Method.

Set over a period of several years at the beginning of the 1900s, A Dangerous Method is an account of the true story of how psychoanalysis came to be, with aspiring young psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), the founder of analytical psychology, taking on a new patient. She is the young Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) and she suffers from extreme bouts of hysteria. As they have many sessions together and become connected on a level that suggests a much deeper meaning of the phrase 'doctor-patient confidentiality', Jung seeks guidance from Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) whom Jung sees as something of a father figure. Together they discuss possible methods of treatment, while at the same time developing this idea of psychoanalysis, but with Jung and Spielrein's turbulent relationship beginning to unravel, a triangle involving blackmail, deceit and betrayal unfolds.

The attraction between Sabina (Keira Knightley) and Carl (Michael Fassbender) begins to heighten.

At the core of this film is a love triangle of sorts, but not all sides are explored with equal prominence. The relationship between Jung and Freud is a deeply interesting one, and this is definitely a central focus of director Cronenberg. While the relationships throughout may seem complicated on the surface, they really are quite simple; the task here as an audience member is to stay interested enough throughout to really care. The film is made up of many scenes that feel like they need to build tension to this almost alienating level, but it seems to fall short and as a result, the film feels longer than it actually is. But the characters are well drawn, it's solidly written by Academy Award-winner Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons [1988]), and the set and costume designs are elegant and modest.

With a great script, invasive directing, and wonderful production design, the film essentially belongs to the actors. Mortensen – for the limited screen time he has – portrays Freud with a subtle complexity that is most inviting. Fassbender is always touching in his performances and as Carl Jung he shows us a conflicted and damaged man in need of redemption with heart-wrenching quality. The stand-out though is Keira Knightley. She has made some very poor career choices in the past (Domino [2005]) but thoroughly impresses here, particularly in scenes involving her convulsions; there are no special effects, she simply pulls all those demonic-looking faces. It's almost a shame that this has all the ingredients for a spectacular film, because it just feels like it gets a little lost and something big is missing from the centre of it; it's missing that scene that leaves everyone talking about it, the scene that everyone refers to when they say "that's the film with that really awesome scene!"

Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud.

Still, one must appreciate the amount of research and preparation that goes into a film of such historical integrity as this does. All involved have done a splendid job, with a strong sense of trust from collaborators; this is Cronenberg's third collaboration with Viggo Mortensen after A History of Violence [2005] and Eastern Promises [2007].

With all its great qualities, A Dangerous Method doesn't quite give the audience the same satisfaction it does the people involved. While the relationships and the story itself is quite fascinating, the film feels quite monotonous and underwhelming, lacking in substantial rise in tension that is needed to propel it from being "a decent effort" to "one of the year's best".

STAR RATING


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Why? A showcase of some great performances.
When: March 29th (Aus)
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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