By Matthew D'Abate
It should come as no surprise that the new David Cronenberg film would have something to do with sexually repressed intellectuals, the dueling nature of primal rage versus the rational mind, and some sadomasochistic erotic encounters. In fact, in the virile filmography of Cronenberg's oeuvre, one can see it was inevitable for him to address the birth of Freudian psychoanalysis, and A Dangerous Method is an ode to this moment in scientific thought.
In fact, as Sigmund Freud and his heir apparent who philosophically breaks with him later, Carl Jung, arrive off the coast of Manhattan, Freud, brooding in his cape, a cigar lodged in his mouth, with the darkness of the Atlantic brewing behind him, asks: "Do you think they know we're on our way, bringing them the plague?"
Psychoanalysis is the order of the day in A Dangerous Method. In this sharply beautiful, dialogue heavy jaunt, we are transported to the crux in history when such a philosophy as radical as a 'talking cure' attempts to uncover the repressed passions and fears of a 'civilized' society. Perhaps now in 2011, just after a century of such ideas being introduced, psychoanalysts and layman alike have disputed, demonized, and shrugged off Freud for his theories about the sexually explicit psychic battle that rages in the subconscious of humanity.
The film is talky; as it was in play form, skillfully written by Christopher Hampton. A Dangerous Method shares the intellectual and rigorous exploration of sexual repression with its stage rendition due to Cronenberg's incessant attention to detail, the director finding himself far from the body horror era of The Fly and Crash, staying taut thematically with Christopher Hampton's cerebral and emotive play.
Michael Fassbender is Carl Jung, a rigid and repressed Swiss young doctor married to a rich wife. He is a doting husband, but it is his psychological work that fills him with intellectual hunger, and the ghostly blue emptiness of Fassbender's coolly lost eyes exposes his lack of sexual passion for his wife. Michael Fassbender brings Jung to life with calculating diligence. Jung attempts to use Freud's psychoanalytic techniques, still in their infant stage, upon a hysterical Russian prone to spasms of jaw wrenching psychic pains, played with acute mania by Keira Knightley.
Freud, played by the perpetual shape-shifter Viggo Mortensen, slinks around like a silent old Zen master. Mortensen is a calmer, gentler Freud, not the dogmatic tyrant of psychological thought imagined by the common populace. Freud talks with Jung, in their famed selection of letters and 13 hour dialogues with a parental regality, and Jung, in response, is the doting student. That is until Knightley's character, Sabina Spielrein, seduces Jung himself, and reveals his own deep-seated repressions.
As his initial father figure reverence and idolization fades, Jung then revolts against Freud's dominance, as he finds himself edging closer towards a sexual freedom with Spielrein that could destroy everything he has built out of the duty he has to his loving wife.
With systematically gorgeous texture, A Dangerous Method is a full-fledged period piece, and a first for David Cronenberg, unless you count the 1950's set hallucinogenic dalliance of Naked Lunch as a paranoid time piece. A Dangerous Method, completely based on actual events, depicts how rebellious each of these early psychoanalysts were, and how strange 'the talking cure' truly was against the backdrop of polite society. Each of the protagonists use these techniques against each other to expose the hidden truths about themselves and their divergent philosophies.
Boring to those with no interest in a visual plays of the mind, A Dangerous Method may come off as a spiraling tale of self-interest. But any audience member attracted to the labyrinthine chasms of the unconscious will find this wordy feature a feast to all of the senses, even ones they repress inside.
A Dangerous Method is now playing at Landmark Sunshine Theater on Houston St. in New York City.