A Dangerous Method (15)



Drama (2011)
99mins Can/Ger/UK/Switz

Starring: Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Mignon Reme, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Gadon, Vincent Cassel, Andre Hennicke, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer(s): Christopher Hampton
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

A deeply disturbed 18-year-old woman called Sabina Spielrein is admitted to Carl Jung's psychiatric clinic in Zurich and provides a fascinating subject. Through conversations with Sabina, Jung delves into her emotional distress and he discovers that her relationship with an abusive father is at the root of her unhealthy behaviour. As they spend more time together, Jung and Sabina engage in violent, sado-masochistic sex that propagates the destructive cycle.

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LondonNet Film Review
A Dangerous Method

Let's talk about sex...

Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) & Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) in A Dangerous Method. © 2009 Lions Gate Films Inc. All Rights Reserved.Screenwriter Christopher Hampton does so with arch detachment in A Dangerous Method, an artfully composed portrait of intellectual one-upmanship adapted from his 2002 stage play, The Talking Cure. Set in the early 20th century, David Cronenberg's film explores the scholarly battle of wits between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his brilliant protege, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) - two great thinkers, who furthered our knowledge about human behaviour and the control exerted by the subconscious. Sexual desire courses beneath the surface of the Canadian director's early work, reaching a climax in the deeply divisive, auto-erotic Crash.

The couplings here are clinical rather than erotic, sado-masochistic rather than salacious - a temporary salve to years of anguish and self-loathing. Hampton's screenplay is dense and wordy, providing Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen with meaty roles as the three points of a self-destruction triangle that ultimately gives birth to psychoanalysis. In the same way that Freud and Jung coolly observe their patients, seeking answers in awkward silences, A Dangerous Method holds a magnifying glass up to the characters and stares unflinchingly into their blackened souls.

The film opens in 1904. A deeply disturbed 18-year-old woman called Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is admitted to Jung's psychiatric clinic in Zurich and provides a fascinating subject. Through conversations with Sabina, Jung delves into her emotional distress and he discovers that her relationship with an abusive father is at the root of her unhealthy behaviour. "Whenever he hit us, afterwards, we had to kiss his hand," she whimpers during one counselling session. The Swiss psychiatrist seeks guidance from Freud, who presides over the academic establishment with arrogance, espousing his theories on the human condition and his "talking cure" technique. The two men galvanise a relationship of mutual respect and competition, challenging each other's firmly held notions. Freud asks Jung to treat psychologist Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), who embraces desire and encourages Jung to indulge pleasures forbidden by polite society. Consequently, Jung and Sabina engage in violent sex that propagates her destructive cycle, and jeopardises the Swiss psychiatrist's marriage to his wife Emma (Sarah Gadon).

Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) & Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) in A Dangerous Method. © 2009 Lions Gate Films Inc. All Rights Reserved.A Dangerous Method is clinical and emotionally cold, distinguished by the performances of the central trio, including an eye-catching turn from Knightley laden with twitches and nervous tics. Man of the moment Fassbender keeps his britches on as a counterpoint to his no holds barred portrayal of a sex addict in Shame, while Mortensen oozes pomposity beneath a halo of cigar smoke. Hampton's screenplay is peppered with some smart one-lines ("Sometimes, you have to do something unforgivable to go on living"), providing Cronenberg with the sparks of eroticism that drive the various relationships to a sombre resolution.

- Sam Cannon


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