A Dangerous Method

Has to be seen by anyone who admires intellectual honesty.

A Dangerous MethodDavid Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method is a generous gift to adults who find intellectually stimulating historical performances to be entertaining. It may not be the cinematic equivalent of Cronenberg’s most recent two movies with Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007), but it is a provocative film on multiple levels.

To begin with, Mr. Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley are mesmerizing in their roles as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and the patient Sabina Spielrein. Beginning in 1904 when Ms. Knightley was sent to a sanitarium in Switzerland where Jung was employed, it tells a small tale of two brilliant men and the consequences of one having a regrettable affair with a beautiful patient.

The bulk of A Dangerous Method concentrates on the treatment of Knightley by Fassbender, scenes that reveal her to be both a brilliant and disturbed young woman. As she gradually regains her emotional balance, the two become tragically involved, particularly given his very visible marriage and several small children. On the other hand, Ms. Knightley always found a good spanking to be sexually provocative, so matters did become a bit complicated.

As Mortensen’s Freud becomes aware of rumors about the affair, Jung is forced to try to end it in the hopes of salvaging his professional reputation. However, Ms. Knightley is not a happy girl, and she does not intend to slip quietly or silently away.

There is simply no questioning the talent of Ms. Knightley. Without question, she was central to the success of A Dangerous Method. For those of you have forgotten Love Actually (2003), King Arthur (2004), Atonement (2007)and Never Let Me Go (2010), they are worth being revisited. Those of us who are movie fans are blessed with her potential for years to come.

Mr. Mortensen is positively superb as Freud, a genius trying to solidify his development of psychoanalysis in the medical world at large. Never appearing without a cigar, he has necessarily found the area of sexual analysis to be fundamental to any treatment of a patient, and his intellectual exchanges with his protégé, Jung, sizzle.

However, it is Fassbender’s performance as Jung that steals the film. As most of you know from memory, he was sterling as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto in last year’s X-Men: First Class, and I am certain that he excels as the self-hating sexual addict in Shame, a movie I have yet to see. When you add in his contributions to the recently released Haywire, one can only wonder how he was ignored for an Oscar nomination this year.

Fassbender’s Jung is also a genius who unfortunately is forced to confront the concept of monogamy while treating an alluring patient who has clearly zeroed in on him. Adored by a wife wonderfully played by Sarah Gadon, he risks everything when his fascination for Ms. Knightley trumps his reason.

In credits that appear at the end of the film, the audience is forced to revisit the tragedies of both Freud and Ms. Spielrein, two Jews who had to face the consequences of living under Nazi domination. The irony is that Dr. Jung, a Protestant, eventually overcame his nervous breakdown during World War I and eventually lived a much longer life as an acclaimed psychoanalyst.

This is a stimulating film that deserves to be seen. The acclaimed leaders in the fight to establish psychoanalysis as an accepted profession also had to confront their own flaws, and in a real sense Cronenberg gives us a brief vision of the human condition. I, for one, applaud him.