Physician Know Thyself

This is my review of A Dangerous Method [DVD].

Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" is mainly about the relationship between two early giants of psychoanalysis, Freud and Jung, played by Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbinder . This is captured in some witty, often humorous and well-acted scenes which made me want to find out more about both the men and their theories. Freud hopes that Jung, almost two decades his junior, will carry on the torch of his controversial ideas on the sexual basis of mental disorder, but cannot tolerate Jung's tendency to follow his own independent line, including telepathy and psychic powers, which Freud finds simply potty, not to mention the irritation of having his authority challenged.

A further complication is Jung's treatment with his new "talking cure" of the hysterical young Russian Jewess Sabina Spielrein, who recovers to become a celebrated psychoanalyst in her own right, but not before providing a fatal attraction for Jung.

The photography is beautiful, with many scenes of Swiss lakes or striking statues against a background of Viennese palaces. The large amount of "walking and talking" reflects the fact this film is based on a stage play by the ubiquitous Christopher Hampton. I also liked the attention to the period detail of the early 1900s: Jung's wealthy wife works on her embroidery the day after giving birth to her first child, while a buxom wet nurse suckles the infant. Freud's identification with Spielrein, as a Jew, and growing awareness of Jung as an Aryan, foreshadows the horrors of the Holocaust.

The quality of the acting is mainly excellent, with Fassbinder in particular showing a clear progression from controlled, ambitious up-and-coming physician, to a wreck on the verge of a nervous breakdown himself, troubled by dreams of carnage which we know are remarkably prescient on the verge of World War 1. Keira Knightley's portrayal of madness in the opening scenes seems grotesquely exaggerated, and her recovery remarkably rapid – she is most frightening when "sane" but thwarted in love.

Although neither a great film nor as good as it might have been, overall this is a well-made contribution to a fascinating theme. At 1 hour 40 minutes, it avoids the error of going on too long.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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