“There must be more than one hinge into the universe.” These words could not be spoken by any other than a man obsessed with the hidden secrets of human nature. So it not a surprise to find that the man Carl Jung, pioneer of analytical psychology drew some of his earliest theories from the people that shaped his life. “A Dangerous Method” brings those arresting relationships to life, and opens our eyes to the layered world of psychology. It is a thorough analysis, but the film’s ingenuity is found in its ability not to jump to conclusions, but leave the diagnosis up to the us the viewers.
Most father/son dramas are characterized by the ongoing struggle or connection between the two, with a dramatic resolution to end. “A Dangerous Method,” is an uncommon patriarchal story of sorts, posing Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) as pupil and symbolic son of Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and their blossoming friendship that leads to many advances in their study of the mind. But the very thing that brings them together is what makes this story compelling. This fateful force happens to be a patient of Jung’s, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). She is a seriously disturbed young woman who would prefer humiliation over closeness or healing. She is the product of her father’s chronic physical abuse, so bad that it is something imprinted on her psyche, now an adult, abuse she cannot do without. Early on in treatment she goes so far to tell Jung, “There’s nothing wrong with me, I don’t even want to get better.”
This could be said for all the major players of the film. While each of them are searching for answers, on a personal level, each of them are slowly devolving, embracing the deeper desires. Jung’s clinical approach to Spielrein begins with scientific inquisition but soon enough transforms into personal attraction as he becomes an accessory to her sickness. At the same time, we observe the ebb and flow of his relationship with his idol Freud, who is drawn to all things sexual, while Jung would rather go his own way and investigate what Freud calls “the mud of superstition.” The film becomes a standoff of sorts, with each character pointing the gun at the other, a web of intricate feelings and beliefs complicating the situation.
“A Dangerous Method,” is primarily the brainchild of director David Cronenberg. Following his juggernaut films “A History of Violence,” and “Eastern Promises,” this movie has his definitive signature but makes room for beauty, sensuality, as well as the more unsettling elements of the human mind. It is apparent that the actors are freely absorbed in their characters and Cronenberg is simply the conductor of his multi-faceted symphony. He has a refreshing visual approach to the film, as the costumes and locales are beautiful in their pristine palettes of white and geometric synergy. The film is written in such a way that it is intelligent, but avoids the pitfalls of exaggeration where the medical terminology and explanations could easily grow out of hand.
In what could have been a very droll film of historical exposition is ignited by the surprising performances that Fassbender, Knightley, and Mortensen deliver. They are surprising because each of the actors is inhabiting personalities that are traditionally outside their realm of predictability. Fassbender is reserved and almost an older version of his actual self — constantly calculating, proposing, and changing. Knightley is the magnet of the film, propelling those around her in inexplicable directions. Her normal girly essence is replaced with a wild, sometimes maniac, sexual addict. The thick accent that she adopts as Spielrein is off-putting and delicious at the same time. Even Mortensen seems different, almost an alternate version of the brooding actor we are accustomed to. They actually did some subtle work to mold his nose to closer resemble the iconic Freud, and although the change is every so slight, it gives him a new face. What Mortensen adds is invaluable, he is the combination of wisdom and dry humor all at once.
With the release of “A Dangerous Method” on DVD, we are treated to some worthwhile extras. In addition to director commentary from David Cronenberg, their is “The Making of a Dangerous Method,” a featurette that extensively highlights the actors’ thoughts on the story and production. Finally, there is an excellent interview with Cronenberg at Harold Lloyd’s Master Seminar at AFI. The questions bring to light the director’s reserved and respectful approach, and his gracious intelligence is unmistakeable.
“A Dangerous Method,” is a study and exposition of mental dissidence and brilliance that deserves a close examination. Not only is it revealing, but offers the finer elements of love, sacrifice, and ultimately a open-ended question that allows us to wonder if a little deviance is required for those who are truly pioneers and masterminds. As Jung explains his life in the final moments of the film, his mistress is his “perfume,” and his wife is the “foundation of his house.” And who doesn’t need a little perfume every once in a while?