A Dangerous Method (2011)
As a film critic, you sometimes endure dry spells when it comes to watching and reviewing. This autumn I've not been as prolific as usual, and not for the first time, it was David Cronenberg who saved me from the dry spell. With his latest dissection of the human mind and body, entitled A Dangerous Method, he has once again refuelled my interest for film as an art form. And today's action- and fantasy-saturated audience should take notice; A Dangerous Method proves that science, intellectual banter and love triangles still can be at least as exciting as wizards and vampires.
As it turns out, Cronenberg is like good wine - he improves with age. And although his thematic fascination has been more or less the same for 30 years now, his discussions and angles have become more refined and less explicit. This was highly apparent with his brilliant 2005 film A History of Violence, it could be seen again in his 2007 entry Eastern Promises, and it certainly is true for A Dangerous Method, which is arguably Cronenberg's most talky and intellectual film to date.
What all these three films - from Cronenberg's seasoned era, if you like - have in common is the enticing, enigmatic presence of Viggo Mortensen. In here he plays Sigmund Freud (which is fascinating enough in and of itself) who after making a name for himself by establishing the school of psychoanalysis in Vienna, meets up-and-coming psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Jung has looked up to Freud's work, and he has successfully utilized Freud's theories to treat one of his most remarkable patients, the boisterous and beautiful Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) who is about to catch the young man's interest on more than just a professional level. The two brilliant men enjoy discussions together and seek to further the advances of the psychoanalysis, but just as Jung discover that his wider scope of interests clashes with Freud's single-mindedness, he also finds himself having trouble containing his own lust when faced with opportunities of sexual liberation, and he must evaluate his own moral system both professionally and personally.
In addition to presenting an unstinted delve into the exciting defining period for the field of psychology, filled with power-struggles and existential discussions, Cronenberg offers perhaps his most vibrating and relevant portrait of atypical sexuality and relations (which has been one of the recurring themes of his career). Through the insistent but delicate Sabina Spielrein character, our ethicized, indoctrinated sexuality is tested along with Jung's, and for Jung's part, this leaves his own self-perception and professional understanding changed forever. He wins a freer mind, but loses his determination to be good at any cost. And in the shadows lurks Freud, with his persuasiveness and partly concealed personal agenda; watching, perhaps quietly gloating.
The performances are imperative in a stagy work like this, and the three leads revel in their highly divergent roles. The over-expressive, uncontained Sabina Spielrein is brilliantly portrayed by Keira Knightley. Knightley takes a chance with how she starts off with her character, but the development of her performance justifies her initial choices. She is perfectly matched and balanced by Michael Fassbender's forceful, subdued performance. Fassbender once again proves what a great talent he is; his character's contradictory emotions is perfectly communicated, and we feel he may burst at the seems at any time. With Viggo Mortensen providing the ideal seasoning with a distinguished take on Freud, you're in for a real treat just watching the artistic merit on display. Add to that Hampton's brilliantly perceptive and dramatized script and Cronenberg's sophisticated observations, you have the basis for one of the most rewarding and engaging films of the year. And the fact that I'm able to say that about a film like this is incredibly healthy for the world of film.