24
Jan
13

A Dangerous Method (2011)

If psychoanalysis is this painful, I'm not interested. Jaw.

If psychoanalysis is this painful, I’m not interested. Jaw.

A large percentage of my posts seem to start off with some sort of apology or confession. This time, I must confess that I almost didn’t watch A Dangerous Method just because Keira Knightley was in it. But, when one commits to watching all of David Cronenberg’s work, one simply cannot leave a film out because of its lead actress. What a shame it would have been, because as much as I hate having to admit being wrong, I was. Knightley was really good in this, dammit.

A Dangerous Method is sold as a Freud biopic, but that’s misleading; really the film is about the early years of psychoanalysis. Of course that’s going to include a large dose of Freud, here played by Viggo Mortensen (in a very, very different role than he previously delivered in Eastern Promises, that’s for sure!), but I think it’s fair to say the focus is largely on Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (Knightley), a very troubled young Russian woman who eventually becomes the first female psychoanalyst.

Mortensen does Freud.

Mortensen does Freud.

Spielrein is brought, very much against her will, to Burghölzli, the psychiatric hospital where Jung is practicing. Jung practices talk therapy with Spielrein: sitting behind her in a chair while asking her questions. Some answers are so difficult for her to spit out her mouth and body contort in such strange ways it’s frightening. Eventually, therapy brings out the root of her “hysteria” and Spielrein is cured, on a certain level. What is the root of this hysteria? Spielrein is turned on by humiliation and it makes her feel vile and disgusting.

Eventually Jung & Spielrein end up having an affair, while Jung’s wife Emma keeps popping out babies. Freud and Jung finally meet, and Freud fully expects Jung to carry psychoanalysis along the path it started on, but is more than distressed to find out Jung’s interested in some mystical crap. The rift widens when the truth about Jung’s relationship with Spielrein comes out and their strained friendship never recovers. In the end, Spielrein ends up having more of an intellectual affinity with Freud than with Jung, despite their personal and professional relationships.

She really *does* like it.

She really *does* like it.

There’s a whole hell of a lot more going on here (I didn’t even mention Vincent Cassel’s awesome portrayal of Otto Gross), but I’m no psychoanalyst and I wouldn’t want to try to summarize the whole thing here. I will say, though: this movie felt like Cronenberg: the first scene with Jung and Spielrein recalled that first frightening, dramatic scene from The Brood – I was rapt almost immediately, and by an actress I really usually have no time for at all. This also reminded me a bit of Stereo: both broach the subject of patients’ dependency on their doctors. I’ve said it before, and I will reiterate here: I understand Cronenberg doesn’t like the idea that there’s even a word “Cronenbergian” but themes such as this are so common in so much of his work, how can it be avoided? It was quite refreshing to see the director film new ideas while picking up the threads of old themes.

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