I'm a freelance writer living and loving Melbourne
Much has been written about the relationship between Carl Jung, played by Michael Fassbender, and Sigmund Freud, played with seductive reserve by Viggo Mortenson. History tells us that somewhere along the way the role of mentee to Freud's mentor became too restrictive for Jung. But what was it that brought them together in the first place? And what was it that would eventually drive them apart? A female patient turned lover then colleague, Sabina, played by Keira Knightley.
This is the subject of director David Cronenberg's new film A Dangerous Method, which is a marked change of form from his usual psychological-slash-gangster thrillers (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises) and the just plain weird and a little unsettling (The Fly, eXistenZ). I am happy to report this film is a welcome change. The script by playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton beautifully paces this important piece of history without moving into cliché or melodrama. Hampton walks the tightrope between historic drama and tragic love story. Not only is the love we see come from the obvious love story between Jung and Sabina, it is arguably also seen as the admiration and inspiration he finds in Freud.
The standout performance comes from Knightley. In the very first scene, she appears screaming and clawing at the inside of a train carriage in a state of psychosis on a fast track to the mental hospital where Carl Jung is one of its doctors. It is with Sabina that Carl Jung first uses Freud's well-documented 'talking method', or psychoanalysis as we know it today. As Sabina's treatment progresses and her mental state improves to the point where she is able to assist Jung in his research, Jung writes to tell Freud all about his success. And the rest is history.
Fassbender and Mortenson also give fine performances. Fassbender shows the struggle Jung feels between staying true to his conventional family life and casting off the sexual repression that Freud speaks of, with Sabina. A path to freedom that is also prescribed by doctor turned patient Otto Gross who makes only a brief appearance and is played with a disturbed and perverse elegance by Vincent Cassel. In Mortenson's Freud, we see a measured delivery that takes us from the celebrated cult figure of science to a tired and worn-out manipulator who comes to know his work will not receive its due recognition during his lifetime.
For lovers of psychology and its origins and heck, lovers of great historic drama that isn't OTT and formulaic, A Dangerous Method is a winner. My prescription is a definite, go see this film and soon.