Provocative Canadian director David Cronenberg is renowned for delving head first into the darkest recesses of our fears and deep seated desires. His career to date has resulted in a back catalogue of psychologically-probing pieces which constantly test his audiences and have garnered him some much deserved critical acclaim – making him the perfect candidate to direct A Dangerous Method (2011), an adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s 2002 play The Talking Cure and John Kerr’s 1993 book, A Most Dangerous Method.
Michael Fassbender (starring later this year in Ridley Scott’s much anticipated Prometheus) plays Carl Jung, a driven psychologist currently in the infancy of his career. His profession is currently (and remains so to this day) founded on the works of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), a celebrated professor who, despite Jung’s belief’s that he’s far too obsessed with sexual rooting of mental illness, soon becomes a mentor to this aspiring doctor. However, their intellectual relationship is tested with the arrival of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a deeply troubled Russian women who’s repressed memories of her strict upbringing makes her not only a fascinating subject for Jung’s recent studies but the key to reveal his own repressed desires.
A Dangerous Method is a beautifully subtle film, hindered only by its audience’s expectations of something more vivacious and spectacular from this controversial director. Yet behind this period façade the film hides a deeply fascinating dichotomy between science and superstition, old and new teachings, and the relationship between body and the mind.
However, in his attempts to remain grounded in the facts which constitute this story, Cronenberg loses the natural flair we’ve become accustomed to and whilst successfully captures the brooding tension which hangs over these seemingly passive encounters it feels like he’s constantly stuck in second gear – held back by his own self imposed limitations by attempting to create something both profound and factually accurate.
Perhaps the most instantly striking element of A Dangerous Method is its performances. Mortensen and Fassbender are both incredible as the film’s two feuding psychiatrists, both managing to cast an imposing shadow over proceedings with an air of almost god like prowess. The main talking point though is Keira Knightley’s performance as Spielrein. At times she’s phenomenal, especially when seamlessly flitting back and forth across the fine line that separates mental stability and insanity. However, at times her over elaborate mannerisms seem almost pantomimic. Guilty of often mugging towards the camera whilst simultaneously struggling to control her meandering accent, it’s so rare to see an actress give a performance that so effortlessly switches between brilliance and the absurd.
Whilst is seems destined to disappoint far more than it’ll impress, A Dangerous Method remains a sumptuously presented character study which seeks to explore the minds of those who pioneered the notion of mental analysis. Given time to immerse itself in your subconscious A Dangerous Method will no doubt linger with you like an uncomfortable presence in the recesses of your memory.