A Dangerous Method

OSMAN RIAZ sees sado-masochism and spanking, and wonders, what would Freud think?

A Dangerous Method David Cronenberg Film Freud Jung Kiera Knightley Michael Fassbender psychoanalysis psychology Viggo Mortensen

Directed by David Cronenberg.

[rating: 3/5]

The psychoanalyst attempts to unravel human behaviour by watching human mental development. But who, pray tell, watches the psychoanalyst?

David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method watches the evolution of psychoanalysis through the rivalry between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender).

Jung, who founded analytical psychology, finds his naughty mind (as opposed to Freud’s dirty one) attracted to his psychologically tormented patient (and future psychoanalyst) Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). A sado-masochistic affair that wouldn’t be out of place in Cambridge’s BDSM-scene ensues. To think, what would Freud have said?

Famed as an auteur, Cronenberg departs from his characteristic psychological thrillers/horrors for a historical drama. But there’s a certain detachment from the ongoing proliferations of relationships which the director cannot correct, leaving his camera simply to observe rather than, um, penetrate.

As erratic as the personalities is the editing, which, with a simple splice, uneasily skips years of story to jam-pack everything into a  running-length of 94 mins. It’s a shame that a director so occupied with notions of identity and sexual power cannot exhibit their delicacies in an admittedly demanding narrative.

Provocative and powerful in his perusals of the politics of sexual repression, Cronenberg gets some great performances from his actors. The affable Fassbender’s contemplative and measured portrayal of Jung is the main thrust (I just can’t help myself) of the story. Why no accent? Perhaps Fassbender was dissuaded upon witnessing Knightley’s struggling over a semi-Russian. Hey, maybe that’s why he spanks her! Yes. There’s spanking.

Just lie down on my couch…

There’s also an abundance of filmic wit, mirrored in Mortensen’s roguish and drily humorous Freud, and he inevitably steals the show in his third collaborative performance with Cronenberg (following thrillers A History of Violence and Eastern Promises). The film depends on its central performances, and they are indeed worth the ticket price.

To capture the minutiae of any historical period requires great effort, for which the set- and costume-designers deserve praise. To parade these efforts in the splendour of 35mm, however, whilst capturing an idealised colourful pre-World War One vibrancy, requires an able cinematographer – for which Cronenberg’s crony, Peter Suschitzky, fits the bill. Though the narrative, at times, feels soulless, the screen never does.

When it chooses to be, the film is dramatically exhilarating, weaving the fabrics of theory and reality neatly. When it chooses not to be, it is odd, leaving one’s expectations undercut by a dubious methodology, a reserved nature and an absence of energy.

The ‘method’ was originally considered dangerous as it was thought unscientific, even manipulative. The film, and its composition, is less than dangerous – though, we know, inside its mind, it wants to be.