David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” is about the talking cure – specifically, the kind of talk therapy pioneered by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung at the start of the 20th century.
Freud and Jung, however, nearly talk the audience to death in Cronenberg’s bloodless, pokey film. Though his cast – including Michael Fassbender as Jung, Viggo Mortenson as Freud and Keira Knightley as the young woman about whose treatment they have a falling out – is outstanding, the film snails along as a high-minded discourse that doesn’t know when to shut up.
Knightley plays Sabina Spielrein, a patient who comes to Jung to for the kind of psychoanalytic treatment that Freud has been developing. Spielrein is a mess – willful, wild, acting out in ways that seem to be textbook examples of Freud’s theories. Eventually, we discover that they all seem to stem from a bad relationship with her father; as she eventually reveals, she derives sexual pleasure from being punished, particularly being spanked.
Before long, it’s Jung who’s doing the spanking – and other sexual things that seem to both pleasure and degrade his patient. As he discusses his treatment with Freud, his teacher, they begin to fall out over Freud’s emphasis on sex as the root of all problems; Jung believes that those roots are more far-reaching. They also disagree about the propriety of having sex with the people you’re trying to cure.
There’s also the matter of Jung’s wife, Emma (Sarah Gadon), who is well aware of her husband’s extra-marital dalliances, even as he saddles her with a raft of children. Yet Jung, a remote intellectual sort, can’t quite bring his feelings into alignment with his behavior. Who really needs the therapy here?
This review continues on my website.