November 23, 2011
Christopher Hampton, John Kerr
Keira Knightley as Sabina Spierein
Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud
Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung
Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross
Sometimes, we at BHM get invites to some surprising screenings. Recently, we were given the opportunity to attend an advance screening of the latest film from horror favorite David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method, in New York City. We agreed to attend based on both Cronenberg’s horror clout and the fact that IMDB had classified the film as a “thriller”. As it turned out, the movie is barely a thriller and isn’t at all horror. However, it does have enough Cronenberg style that we thought fans of his would want both a heads up about the upcoming release and what we thought of it.
The film, getting a limited release from Sony Pictures Classics in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday, November 23, is a historical drama set in Europe between 1904 and 1913. Based on actual events, the movie details the relationship between famed psychiatrist Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and a young Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) who would go on to become a name in the psychiatric industry to rival Freud’s own. The two initially have a friendly, almost mentor-student relationship, having discussions on their theories. One day in Zurich, Jung is given a new patient, the 18-year-old Russian Jew Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Jung decides to use Freud’s then-experimental treatment of “psychoanalysis” to get to the root of Spielrein’s hysteria and mental issues. Upon discovering that Spielrein’s issues may be rooted in childhood issues of violence and sexual lust, Jung and Freud’s relationship becomes conflicted. Where Jung believes sex cannot be the only governing factor in people’s mental difficulties and desires to heal Spielrein and train her to be a psychiatrist, Freud sees Jung’s theories as dangerous to psychoanalysis, believing his own sexual cause theories are correct and that a psychiatrist’s job is to discover a person’s issues, not to resolve them. Matters are only made worse when Jung is given another patient by Freud, an anti-monogamist named Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) who believes in a life without regret filled with debauchery and self-satisfaction. Gross’s opinions begin to intrigue Jung and threaten to forever change his relationship with Spielrein, Freud, and even his wife (Sarah Gadon) and children.
If there was any doubt that this wasn’t Cronenberg’s style of film, it should be noted he asked the writer of the play this film was based on, Academy Award-winner Christopher Hampton, to write the screenplay specifically so that he could direct it. He also kept it fairly in house, bringing in another Oscar winner, Jeremy Thomas, to produce (who had also produced Cronenberg’s Crash and Naked Lunch) as well as crew members he’d worked with previously (composer, director of photography, production designer, costume designer, and more). Seeing the finished product, it’s easy to see that, while this isn’t a Cronenberg gorefest or body-horror movie, it is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, his film and the type of film that only he could make. It combines a compelling story and great performances with rough, taboo sexuality and the psychological havoc it can cause a person. If the voters can get past the taboo subject matter, I would not be shocked to see this film mentioned during awards season, particularly for Fassbender, Mortensen, Knightley, or Cronenberg. It may not be scary at all but it is endlessly fascinating and intense and a movie that could not possibly be anyone’s but his. As the screenwriter himself puts it:
“I think David has a unique combination of extremely cool objectivity, and pretty violent engagement. A really original combination which fits this story very well, because it’s a story about people who are attempting to operate the rules of civilization and steer their patients towards ‘the norm’, whilst becoming increasingly aware that there is no norm and that they themselves, like all of us in certain respects, live right out on the wild fringes and have to cope with these contradictions as best we can. David is a wonderful director to encompass these contradictions and make sense of them.”