When I first saw the shorts for this film, I distinctly remember the feeling of unrest that curdled my stomach. I so wanted this to be a good film. David Cronenberg has made some good films in the past – well I liked The Fly – and I hoped that we were in the hands of someone who could do this wonderfully rich and important story justice.
But the film was a disappointment. Which is such a shame.
Set on the eve of World War I, A Dangerous Method is based on the turbulent relationships between Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology, Sigmund Freud, founder of the discipline of psychoanalysis, and Sabina Spielrein, initially a patient of Jung and later a physician and one of the first female psychoanalysts. One of the things that should be known, is the relationship between Jung and Spielrein is a complete fabrication. It is known she was his patient. It is known they were friends. It is not known if they were ever lovers.
The claim by Cronenberg and others associated with the film, is that it has been ‘meticulously researched’. I assume that means the aspects pertaining to Jung, or to the correspondence between Jung and Freud, because what I know of Freudian psychoanalysis has been poorly represented. Freud here is a cliché of himself. There is never a scene without his cigar (‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’) and he is shown to be paranoid about being Jewish, and about the negativity the psychoanalytical community attract – two concerns that had a terrifying accuracy in his life and in fact after it. Not to mention a complete megalomaniac. The analysis of Sabina is glossed over, as is the bulk of Freud’s theories, which is actually not an easy thing to do, given how much time is spent simply talking. As an avid reader of psychoanalysis, I’ve always felt the best defence of Jung was a poor reading of Freud, and this film confirms that theory.
Freud is well performed by Viggo Mortensen, and Michael Fassbender (I STILL don’t get what all the fuss is about) is a competent, if thinly spined, Jung. Keira Knightly is pretty ordinary at best and downright awful at worst as Sabina Spielrein, with a poor Russian accent and clichéd examples of hysteria. Vincent Cassell, someone I always love to see on the screen, gets to deliver the worst line of the film:
“I think Freud’s obsession with sex is because he never gets any.”
Of course, anyone who knows anything about Freud knows he was most likely having many of his own affairs with patients. Or so the story goes.
As if that’s not bad enough, the key theme of the film is repression. (!)
The film is lovely to look at, with beautiful period costuming and gorgeous settings. A very memorable scene shows Freud walking in a sculptured garden that looks breathtaking in its complicated beauty. Although he spirit of the script is (in my opinion) wayward, it is well paced and for a film with a lot of dialogue, it shuffles along quite well, only losing the audience in places. There are interesting fresh scenes of the early days of psychoanalysis and there are clichéd scenes of contemplation in boats. I think those who don’t know much about psychoanalysis might enjoy the film. For me it was all done from Jung’s perspective, without much substance.