Wednesday, January 18, 2012
A DANGEROUS METHOD (2011)
In the early 20th century Sigmund Freud’s ideas about sexual desire and repression had gained reluctant traction in the treatment of mental disorders. At his Zurich clinic Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), a student of Freud’s methods, attempts his mentor’s controversial talking cure on hysterical patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Over time the treatment, termed psychoanalysis by Freud (Viggo Mortensen), tempers Spielrein’s disorder but ignites her passion both to become a therapist in her own right and for her married doctor. She enters the university to the former end and begins an affair with the repressed Jung for the latter. Meanwhile the Vienna-based Freud begins a correspondence with Jung in which the colleagues discuss how their theories have begun to diverge. The staid Freud believes in a more rigid academic approach, whereas Jung is open to broader explorations. Freud terms Jung’s divergences “mysticism” and fears they will undermine the credibility of the vocation he has worked hard to legitimize. The film teems with seduction and betrayal, though not of the body but of the mind. When they’re not attempting to seduce each other to their theoretical cause, Jung and Freud compete for Spielrein’s intellectual soul, and she theirs. Give credit to screenwriter Christopher Hampton for this effective transference from the carnal to the cerebral. He adapts his play “The Talking Cure”, which was based on John Kerr’s book A Most Dangerous Method, and fashions a lively drama of ideas. Fassbender fascinates as the outwardly proper but inwardly tumultuous Jung, torn between clinical objectivity and subjective stimulation. Mortensen brings wily bemusement to the role of Freud, with a knowing twinkle behind his watchful eyes. The real surprise here is Knightley, who takes the physicality of Spielrein’s neurosis to a daring yet never overwrought level without losing the underlying humanity. Though the film retains an appropriate verbosity, director David Cronenberg energizes the frame with both visual and dramatic rigor, releasing it from the confines of its stodgy period trappings.