A Dangerous Method (2011) is a film about temptation and seduction, the breaking of professional etiquette, the falling out between two aging academics and the use of a ‘Talking Cure’ for people suffering from mental problems. Another poignant insight into the life of the soul from director David Cronenberg, who is no stranger to controversy and not afraid of exploring the perverse side of human nature. Abnormal animalistic behaviour, tormented psyches and sadomasochistic tendencies are all treated with his usual flair, tact, style and sympathy.
The film has a dark, obscure side and is unsettling, but definitely not dirty or tacky – it has found a form of sensuality all of its own. Keira Knightley takes a huge risk by taking on the tricky role of Sabina Spielrein, a disturbed young Russian.
She has matured into nothing short of a screen goddess, that merits at the very least an Oscar nomination. Her spirited, harrowing depiction of an insane, frustrated nymphomaniac and her road to recovery shows her depth, diversity and allure, and I was almost expecting a football-style shirt-removing celebration after her verbal victory, but our English rose had already done a topeless scene, God bless you maam, and perhaps not appropriately, given the austere Austrian setting. Yes, I think a Damehood is order here, in addition to the Oscar.
Psychoanalysis is Austria’s biggest export after the apple strudel. But was it ‘the method’ that cured our gorgeous Sabina, or just a decent shag? Is there a place for pyschoanalysis? Absolutely, but let’s not get carried away believing it to be a science. The correct place for this sort of thing is, of course, the pub, where spurious ideas about sex can be discussed endlessly over copious amounts of beer, as is the English tradition.
Played by the studious and sanguine Michael Fassbender, Jung puts his career and reputation on the line by failing to control his own libido as he slips into a torrid affair with his irresistible patient. Viggo Mortenson plays the serious historical figure of Freud with well-calibrated austerity and authority. His friendship with Jung hangs by a thread, as the young disciple becomes frustrated with his master’s inflexibility.
The use of the word ‘method’ reminded me of one of the greatest movie scenes of all time between Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (1979), which goes along the lines of ‘Do you think my methods are unsound? I see no method here sir.’
OK, this may be stretching my point a bit, but you catch my drift. As Mike Dundee pointed out in Crocodile Dundee (1986): ‘What’s the use of an analyst if you’ve got mates?’
Isn’t ‘talking’ what we’ve been doing since we invented language? Is there more to psychoanalysis than dream interpretation and word games? Not according to this film. For a deeper and a more interesting view on the subconscious or unconscious and a telling counter-point to the psychoanalysis phenomena, I recommend The Fantasia of the Unconscious (1921) by D. H. Lawrence.
Philosophy was a much broader subject at the start of 20th century than at the end. Psychology grew into a science and psychoanalysis, well, is still practised by gypsy fortune tellers and those annoying websites that claim to be able to tell you whether or not your ex-partner is still in love with you. Jung’s weapon, the method of his master, lacks punch – it’s lucky he had a backup plan and belt for the problematic Sabina.
The pace of the film is steady and its communication of ideas and material just about right, giving touching observations and thought-provoking dialogue that is not at all dull or overly complicated. As the story unfolds, the line between hunter and prey becomes blurred, similar to the relationship between Paul and Jeanne in Last Tango in Paris (1972).
Who is seducing who? Who has the upper hand? Who is manipulating who? Who is using and who is abusing? Dr. Jung becomes the victim in the end and the connection between sexuality and emotional disorder becomes hazy. With interest in their subject drying up, the two academics run out of steam and start to bicker – left with a withering vision, dead wisdom and a too-hot-to-handle patient.
Like in Bend it like Beckham (2002), the wily Miss Knightley steals the show and beats both Jung and Freud at their own game. Sex is sacrifice, she argues. Losing your ID, or ego, is part of the course – the sexual act obliges a nullification of the self…for spiritual enlightenment I would put my faith in 1980s pop singer Stacey Q of Two of Hearts fame above Jung or Freud.
I was sceptical of the importance of Jung and Freud concerning their contributions to the understanding of the human condition and subconsciousness before I saw the film, and am even more so now. But this aside, the film tackles an interesting topic and it succeeds because of great directing and superb acting.
It’s encouraging that mainstream film-making has evolved to an extent where ideas about existence, sex and emotional stability can be dealt with in such an intelligent and thorough manner, but it leaves me with just one question – when is someone going to make a film about the life of D. H. Lawrence, the true architect of the modern human mindscape?
99 mins. In English and German.