55th BFI London Film Festival: ‘A Dangerous Method’

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A Dangerous Method

Directed by David Cronenberg

Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassell

When judged against his peers over recent years Canadian horror maestro David Cronenberg is the film maker who has undergone the most compelling metamorphosis. Where George Romero has suffered in a shambling quagmire offering increasingly putrid returns, where Wes Craven’s chutzpah seems to have been slashed to pieces in a expired franchise, where John Carpenter seems to have hung up his monocle and is content to cash cheques from the increasingly inferior remakes of his works only Cronenberg seems to have evolved in an autumn period of work that has sublimated the flesh and the fury for the psychological study, delving into the minds of his subjects rather than spilling their guts, with a cast list of many of the more daring and dangerous actors of the era.

In his latest film A Dangerous Method the origins of psychoanalysis are exhumed in what on paper would seem to be a perfect marriage of subject and celluloid therapist. Vienna, on the eve of the Great War, and the evolution of a nascent medicine known as psychotherapy is slowly accruing more academic prestige due to the breakthrough treatments of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Some younger aspirants can see the potential of this radical break with traditional remedies and are developing their individual bespoke treatments of the sanity deprived, chief among them the ambitious young Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) who has recently acquired a distressed new patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) who has medical ambitions of her own, should her anxieties be relieved by these subversive new treatments. Jung, married into wealthy and respective society by a wife who seems more concerned with providing him a male heir than supporting his neurotic crusade soon finds himself embarking on a radical form of therapy with Sabina, igniting a sexual relationship and abandoning themselves to the earthly desires of the flesh that violate the decorums of polite society, a dangerous method that flirts with disaster.

During his introductory remarks to a matinée audience at this years LFF, Cronenberg explained how his film was culled from the correspondence of the period (in a 20th century precursor to e-mail the great and good would write and receive letters a half dozen times a day) between the three main characters, all genuine historical figures, which he stated as fascinating insight into the period but not necessarily the foundations of a great film. It’s a brave and honest admission, as A Dangerous Method is handsomely crafted with a fine appreciation of detail and place, but like much of Cronenberg’s work over the past decade it’s a sterile affair, an antiseptic dissection of the anxious birth of psychotherapy, orbiting the figurehead of Freud as a distant patriarch, with a miscast Mortensen whom is more novelty than Nouveau. Fassbender breaks a recent streak of powerful performances having little more to do than toy with his phallic pipe in some blankly staged scenes and Knightley is frankly embarrassing to observe in the early spasms of the movie, writhing with a physical and vocal dementia, before growing more certain in the role as her relationship with Jung intensifies. The film seems uncertain of its intentions and the result is an uninvolving, dullen affair, with only Vincent Cassell as something of a film stealer as the rogue seducer Otto Gross, an appropriately named psychiatric maverick who appears as a proto beatnik lovechild of Keith Richards and Jack Kerouac. A scene where Jung and Freud visit America to incubate the therapy movement, arguably a defining moment of the 20th century, is not mined for its historical caliber before the film limps to a dry and emotionally neutered conclusion. In his latest film the method is flawed in this aberrant , minor Cronenberg.

 

  • John McEntee –

 

Visit the official website for the 55th BFI Film Festival

 

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