A Dangerous Method is an intelligent, beautifully acted exploration into the relationship between the godfathers of psychiatry that features David Cronenberg at his most welcomely restrained.
Cronenberg has always been obsessed with the minds of his characters, and the nuttier the better. It makes sense then that he would take to John Kerr’s book “A Most Dangerous Method” (itself an adaptation of the play “The Talking Cure” written by Christopher Hampton), which dramatized the true life forging and separation of the forefathers of modern psychiatry: Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).
Of course like most quarrels between men, the source of their friction is a woman, in this case Russian Sabina Spielrein. Played by Keira Knightely we are first introduced to Spielrein when she is in the throes of madness, Knightley clenching her jaw and clawing her hands as she describes her darkest fears and fantasies to Dr. Jung.
It would come as a surprise to find that Spielrein would benefit from the “talking cure” in more ways than one, herself becoming one of the first female psychiatrists. Not so much a surprise that the professional relationship between Spielrein and Jung would lead to an affair.
The more compelling “romance” is that between Jung and Freud. It’s a relationship that has many different forms: Mentor to protégé. Doctor to doctor. Elder statesman to younger gentleman. Scenes aplenty are featured where both men talk to and analyse one another, at one point Freud referring to the fact that they have had an ongoing conversation for 13 hours.
It’s not boring, overtly intellectual blabber either. Every shared exchange between the two reveals the differing personal and professional philosophies that slowly see them drift apart, with Jung’s admittance of his affair with Spielrein the final straw.
Jung and Freud are beautifully portrayed by Fassbender and Mortensen. With Knightley given carte-blanche to go all out as Spielrein (which she does with admirable aplomb), it is up to these two character actors supreme to provide not only the rationality but the down to Earth frankness to these out of control emotional games.
Cronenberg’s handling of the material is to be admired and applauded. While the moments of psycho-sexual interplay allows him to indulge in his obsession with the kinky, the Canadian auteur shows a surprising restraint that his own written works don’t have. It’s nice to see Cronenberg step away from his penchant for the violent and the grotesque for something a little quieter and refrained.
No doubt Cronenberg will be back to his blood splattering best, but as long as gems like A Dangerous Method pop up now and again to stimulate the mind and not the up-chuck reflex, it is a welcome reprieve.