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Gordon S. Miller Written by Gordon S. Miller
Nov. 26, 2011 | 4:05 PM

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David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method is an adaptation by Christopher Hampton of his own stage play The Talking Cure, which is based on John Kerr’s non-fiction book A Most Dangerous Method.  It’s a fascinating look over the course of nine years at the relationship triangle, both professional and personal, between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). 

The film opens in 1904 with Jung a few years into working as a psychiatrist at the University of Zurich’s psychiatric hospital.  He is assigned to care for Spielrein, a young Russian woman in need of serious attention due to her unusual behavior and physical tics.  Jung begins to use Freud’s then-experimental treatment known as psychoanalysis, which gets Spielrein to open up about her past so she can learn how to deal with it.  A bond forms between the married doctor and his patient and boundaries are crossed as Spielrein moves from patient to psychology student at the university.

Boundaries are also crossed between Jung and Freud.  Jung is a great admirer of Freud and his work.  He corresponds with Freud and later visits him in Vienna.  However, an impasse is reached when Freud’s rigidity regarding what’s acceptable study in psychology stifles and dismisses Jung’s ideas regarding spirituality and mysticism.  Jung also becomes compromised when Spielrein becomes a patient and student of Frued’s.

While themes of sex and psychology are familiar in Cronenberg’s work, A Dangerous Method is a very straightforward historical drama.  His direction is as restrained as are the participants; even the sex scenes between Jung and Spielrein reveal a quality of coldness and distance between them.  The staging, camerawork, and editing do nothing to make viewers forget the source material is a play.  But that’s not a knock as it’s a real treat to watch actors act, particularly the three leads who stretch themselves in their performances, and to see them demonstrate the power well-written words have. 

Some will understandably find A Dangerous Method‘s pacing too slow and the characters too removed to empathize with, but I enjoyed the story and the film’s methodical execution, and am now curious to learn more about these historical figures.

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