David Cronenberg’s latest effort, an adaptation of the Christopher Hampton play The Talking Cure has been deemed by many to be something of a diversion for the particular Canadian filmmaker. Gone is the body horror shocks of his earlier work, the echo of which spread far and wide, even in to his more recent, “straight” works, and in comes a dialogue heavy musing on the early days of psychoanalysis. Alas, that summation couldn’t be further from the reality of the situation, with A Dangerous Method a perfectly appropriate accompaniment to all that has fallen before it, a subjective Inland Empire if you will, and the natural end point for a filmmaker whose work has long dealt with such subject matter, albeit from the other side of the fence.
As the film opens we are thrown in to a scenario that is positively Cronenbergian, as a hectic horse driven cart speeds along moorlands, and a sequence which immediately dispels any notions that this is but your typical period piece. The camera remains within the confines of the cart, never allowing the erratic display of the figure inside to district its gaze. Elsewhere we have the contextually surprising burst of violence that one would expect of a David Cronenberg film, the director himself having previously commented on just how important that initial spark is within each project (Eastern Promises had the naked Turkish bath fight, while A History Of Violence had its opening shooting). Here the defining moment comes courtesy of a letter opener, and while not as brutal as their earlier counterparts, within the context of the film it certainly marks a point of note.
A Dangerous Method tells of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the father and refiner of psychotherapy. Via their mutual friendship with fellow psychoanalytics pioneer Sabina Spielrein the film charts the evolution of the pair’s relationship, as they initially bond before falling out over professional indifferences over the course of a decade. Much of the focus of the film centres around Michael Fassbender’s Jung. For the fourth time this year Fassbender impresses, in a performance that extends far beyond the usual period figure, following in the general spirit of the film. Keira Knightley, as the troubled Ms. Spielrein is quite simply a revelation, with a performance that finally cements the promise hinted at for so many years, and one that will hopefully be rewarded handsomely come awards season. Teaming up with Cronenberg for the third time in successive films is Viggo Mortensen, and while he’s on top form when he is on screen, said time in front of the camera is limited, leading his Freud to be little more than an extended cameo at best. The rapport between Mortensen and Fassbender is truly wonderful though, ensuring that the scenes shared between the two are consistently memorable, with special note going to the pairs first meeting, a 12-hour affair that takes in several meals and many a sight of Freud’s Vienna.
The film is split in to chapters of sorts, with one particular episode dealing with the story of Otto Gross, a maverick psychoanalyst portrayed in A Dangerous Method by Vincent Cassel. Cassel’s brief turn is the sort of appearance that terms like “scene stealing” were invented for, his raging lothario the poster child for the anti-psychoanalysis movement. He’s a keen drug user, a womaniser and a drunk, and yet he is the one behind the clipboard, seeking answers for the lost. It’s figures such as Otto Gross that ensure that A Dangerous Method is a surprisingly accessible work, not least for a film ground in such a complex and potentially alienating subject matter to a regular audience. As with Jean Renoir’s The Rules Of The Game, a film with which A Dangerous Method is surprisingly reminiscent of, Cronenberg crafts a measured rendering of history, merging well-documented history with a dramatic cause. While I’m in no position to attest to the historical accuracy of Cronenberg’s film, one might surmise that given the subject matter, and given the credentials of the source material, that Cronenberg and Hampton haven’t ruffled too many feathers with their interpretation of events. It’s no doubt patronising and unfair to suggest that the real story can’t possibly have been *this* entertaining, but from what I gather this was most certainly the case.
A Dangerous Method is another triumph from one of the World’s great filmmakers, and essential viewing. The film goes on general release early in 2012.
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