David Cronenberg has done some freaky shit throughout his career. Most of his work is violent and sexual. In fact, he seems to enjoy blending the two together. It can make for an uneasy mix at times. I have often felt he does it just for the sake of it and not because it always adds to the story. I can be by myself in a completely empty house and I’ll still find myself saying, “That’s gross” when watching some of his movies.
I’m willing to bet the most recognizable – to the majority of people – film of his would be the 1986 remake of The Fly. Most of the rest of his movies are something only horror or Cronenberg fans would really know of. So when I heard he was doing a movie about Sigmund Freud (father of psychoanalysis) and Carl Jung (founder of Analytical psychology), I thought this would be super trippy. Freud was known for tying just about every emotional/mental issue back to a person’s sexuality and Jung was rumored to have had affairs with his patients (hello, conflict of interests). When I heard Viggo Mortensen (who hasn’t met a nude scene he didn’t like) and Michael Fassbender (who was in the supposedly explicit movie Shame) were in it, I thought, “Oh well I guess I’m going to be seeing plenty of full-frontal male nudity tonight.” Luckily, I didn’t see any and Cronenberg kept things fairly minimal. Considering the topic, he could have gone overboard and he did not. It was interesting and actually quite funny at times.
Essentially, this movie is about a few things. First, Jung (Fassbender) recently acquires a new patient. Sabrina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) was sent to his facility by her family. When I say this chick was totally batshit crazy, I mean it. When we first meet her, she obviously has issues. But wait until she tells Jung what’s really going on up in that noodle she calls a brain. To make matters worse, Jung started to develop feelings for her. After some initial hesitation, he actually begins a relationship with her. As respected as Jung is in the field of psychology, it’s a little hard to fully accept his work when he was rumored to have affairs with patients and staff alike.
The other aspect of this movie explores the relationship between Jung and Freud (Mortensen). Once Jung‘s work hit a certain degree of notoriety, Freud felt it was appropriate the two should meet. He was interested in Jung’s work and also happened to be looking for someone to become his protégé. The two eventually grew apart for a few reasons. First, they had a fundamental disagreement in treatment. Jung held certain beliefs that Freud simply would not accept; because it wasn’t proven science. Additionally, Jung felt Freud never treated him as an equal. Also, Freud did not approve of Jung’s relationship with Sabrina.
The acting was also superb. Mortensen was pretty much exactly how one would picture Freud. He was funny (both haha funny and quirky), smart, and dedicated. He also seemed to have a bit of an ego. Jung seemed to be something of a conflicted man. He loved his wife and family, but also loved a few other people if you get my drift. He did seem to genuinely care about making people better, but his methods crossed a line (if the rumors are actually true). It was also interesting to see how straight-laced he could be for a guy who was much different behind closed doors. The guy had many layers to him and Fassbender was able to portray that well. Keira Knightley was also good as Jung’s patient and first mistress, Sabrina Spielrein. Her accent was a little sketchy at times, but the performance was good. Vincent Cassel was also highly amusing as Freud and later Jung patient, Otto Gross. Gross himself was a doctor and supposedly the one who encouraged Jung to “loosen up” a little. He didn’t believe in limitations. At all. I’m no expert, but that could be the reason why he was no longer a performing doctor, but rather a patient. The guy is totally self-destructive, but you can’t help and be entertained by what a character he is. He makes Hugh Hefner look like an Amish guy.
The movie is an interesting look at the history of mental health. These two men are responsible for some of the most popular beliefs and types of treatment for mental health issues. They also seemed kind of nuts, but I digress. It was interesting from a historical perspective.
It’s also filled with some solid performances. But I have to agree with the She, that not a whole lot happens. Not a bad movie, not a great one, but just kind of there.
Rating: Thumbs half up.
This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on April 2, 2012.
What She said:
There’s a dangerous method for curing chicks who are absolutely batty—sleep with them and make them fall hopelessly in love with you. Well, at least that’s how Carl Jung aka Michael Fassbender decided to handle the case of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). I credit Jung for giving more conventional treatments a crack first, he tries using the talking method to work her through her problems. But, as Jung’s mentor Sigmund Freud so famously believes, it always comes back to sex.
And that’s the basic foundation upon which A Dangerous Method is built. Actually, that’s just one angle of examining this movie. The more linear plot revolves around a younger Jung, who is just setting down roots in his profession. He’s working in a hospital where he’s charged with treating Spielrein. She’s the kind of crazy that just makes you feel uncomfortable—screaming, writhing, and contorting in all kinds of strange ways. Jung begins talking her through her problems, which seem to stem from an abusive past. In the meantime, he establishes a professional relationship with Sigmund Freud, who is already famous for his take on the psychology of the human mind, sex, sex, and more sex. Jung doesn’t really believe him; he thinks there are other contributing factors, such as religion and mysticism. Even though, as he treats Spielrein, all signs seem to point to sex. Of course, his doctor/patient relationship becomes inappropriate, and she becomes a total mess when he tries to end it. As Jung begins to develop his own treatment methods, he and Freud become more and more divided. It’s sort of a coming-of-age tail for Jung.
This movie is directed by David Cronenberg, which, as The He informed me, means it could have gotten pretty intense. It didn’t really, though. It wasn’t boring, but I didn’t exactly find it fascinating either. It was pretty easy to figure out where it was going. While I found the on-screen relationship between Jung and Spielrein to seem strained, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Jung and Freud engage in conversation.
Freud, as represented by Viggo Mortensen, was actually quite funny. Compared to Jung, whose mind wandered all over the place, Freud was often literal and straightforward. The dynamic between the two was great.
The acting was pretty solid all around. Not that there was ever a doubt that Viggo Mortensen could do Freud justice. Fassbender was solid as well, and Knightley was weird, but I guess also believable. I don’t have a whole lot to complain about with respects this movie, and yet I also don’t have a lot of great stuff to say either. It was just sort of there for me. Interesting, and yet not particularly valuable. I guess I should have psychoanalyzed it a little more, but that’s just not my thing.