Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley & Viggo Mortensen
Directed By: David Cronenberg
Screenplay By: Christopher Hampton
Based on the Book By: John Kerr
Produced By: Jeremy Thomas
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Running Time: 99 minutes
Budget: $15 million
Genre: Biography / Drama
Release Date: October 5, 2011 (limited)
At the turn of the 20th century, when society was all sorts of sexually repressed, an even-more-deeply sexually repressed man from Vienna invented a controversial new branch of science just to figure out why. This pseudo-scientific method – dubbed psychoanalysis by its founder, Sigmund Freud – focused on systematically conversing with a patient about their troubles, childhood memories and dreams, and then blaming sex.
In A Dangerous Method, a nearly-unrecognizable Viggo Mortensen portrays Freud as a weary man at war with time. He relishes his role as the father of modern psychology (and the celebrity that comes with it), but has already shifted his attention to crafting the legacy he will leave behind. Freud has seen his theories trickle down to a new generation of sexually-repressed men across Europe, and has taken it upon himself to hand-pick the one man sexually-repressed and blindly-obedient enough to carry on his proud legacy of being weirdly-fixated on genitalia.
His most promising candidate is Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), a young Swiss doctor who has implemented Freud’s methods in the treatment of the mentally-ill patients at his Zurich clinic. Jung’s seemingly-perfect, sexually-repressed life is thrown into utter chaos with the arrival of Sabina (Kiera Knightley), a snarling, animalistic Russian woman whose sexual desires are directly linked to her desire for humiliation and punishment. As Sabina’s therapy begins to demonstrate positive results, Jung begins to spend more and more time with her, blurring the lines between doctor and patient, much to the distress of his porcelain-doll wife (Sarah Gadon).
On the rambling, hedonistic advice of Freud acolyte (and sexual addict) Otto Gross (a typically-lascivious Vincent Cassel), Jung gives in to his basest desires, curing Sabina’s crazy with hot, spanking-filled sex. Assuming the role of Dom empowers Jung, who begins to question Freud’s absolute authority and totally suspicious preoccupation with sex. The theories Jung champions, which include even crazier areas of study like alchemy, astrology and precognition, only hasten the crumbling relations with his cigar-chomping father figure.
Director David Cronenberg built his career on gruesome, visceral films like Videodrome, The Fly and Naked Lunch. In recent years – especially in his previous collaborations with Mortensen – he has turned his attentions inward. Latter-day Cronenberg is still fixated on the dark and disturbing, but has shifted his focus to the evil men do, and the many ways they convince themselves it’s okay to do it. He’s abandoned overtly Freudian imagery like the sticky, yonic video game ports of eXistenZ and has established himself as a mature, refined filmmaker. But in tackling Freud directly, he stumbles.
A Dangerous Method attempts to delve into some broad, heavy topics, like sex and death and freedom and sin, but confined by its period setting, only explores them through sitting-room conversations and couriered letter voice-overs. Though well-acted by a uniformly outstanding cast, beautifully shot by frequent Cronenberg collaborator Peter Suschitzky and capably scored by the legendary Howard Shore, something about the utter restraint of the proceedings keeps it feeling like a particularly well-made Hallmark movie that just happens to linger on a virginal blood-stained bedsheet for a tad too long.
2.5 Stars (out of 5)