The trend these days is to downplay movies when deciding on a title, leaving hype to social media and the trailers. Thus, following in the wake of luminaries such as The Artist and The Blind Side, we have John Carter and The Raven to look forward to in the coming weeks. In comparison, A Dangerous Method is worryingly adjectival, sounding as it does a bit like a Steven Segal project.
Predictably, given that the subject of the film is the development of Freudian psychoanalysis, prudes might want to steer clear, but otherwise, those of a sensitive nature need not be too concerned. Carl Jung and Siegmund Freud, initially fraternal in their dealings, carry on a protracted argument over several years, which develops into a feud when the latter refuses to discuss a dream he has had. The subject is Jung’s newly developed treatment, which apparently advances Freudian therapy by encouraging (a) talking and (b) rehabilitative work schemes.
Why this should upset the godfather of psychiatry is unclear throughout the film, except insofar as Jung is improperly having an affair with his patient. Very unprofessional, no doubt, except that Sabrina Spielrein is not only cured by her dose of spanking, but becomes a model professional. Moreover, Jung’s delving into the less scientific fields of instinct and telepathy allow him, rather brilliantly, to predict that Freud’s bookshelves will crack in a dry, hot room, and at the film’s climax, that there will be a war (and not just a sexual one); perhaps it is this fact which allows him to be the only psychiatrist to survive the war, for Spielrein’s early talent for predictions did not warn her that moving to the USSR would be such a good idea in 1941.
Unfortunately, what starts out as a brilliantly acted take on upbringing and abnormality descends into a deliberately unfunny sex comedy. Vincent Cassel enters the fray as Otto Gross, who convinces Jung that freedom means making whoopee with the patients and staff as and when desired. The fact that Gross smokes several cigarettes before Jung lights his pipe means that A Dangerous Method comes very close to showing what would happen if Stiffler of American Pie walked into a Victorian morality piece.
Having such a great cast at hand only makes the end result more tragic. Keira Knightley gives a wonderful performance, filling Spielrein with meaning and contorted energy, when the great mistake is giving her character so little to say when making the grand points the film tries to make. Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel are all more than tolerable, but a dull script and dour personality render Michael Fassbender’s Jung a supporting character in the central role. David Cronenberg, probably most famous for Crash, another film about perversion, has not obviously done a bad job, but A Dangerous Method is weaker than the sum of its parts; pretentious, unprovocative and slightly absurd.
In conclusion, not a date movie, unless you are not with a partner, and want to make the case of Otto Gross, that monogamy is the only perversion.
P.S. I’m not the only one who thinks so!