Friday, February 10, 2012

A Dangerous Method

Based on Christopher Hampton’s stage play The Talking Cure and John Kerr’s non-fiction novel A Most Dangerous Method: the story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. A Dangerous Method is the story about Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud’s friendship that is later ruined by Jung’s examination towards his controversial patient Sabina Spielrein. Directed by David Cronenberg and screenplay by Christopher Hampton, the film explores the world of psychology in the early 20th Century as well as how this woman would destroy the friendship of two great minds. Starring Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley, Sarah Gadon, and Vincent Cassel. A Dangerous Method is an engrossing yet provocative drama from David Cronenberg.

It’s 1904 as Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) has arrived to a Swiss mental hospital under the care of Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Jung’s interest in Speilrein’s case of abuse and psychological torment has him trying to understand more about Spielrein as he takes some of the methods of renowned psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) to understand more about Speilrein’s history of abuse. Two years later with wife Emma (Sarah Gadon), Jung travels to Vienna to meet with Freud where the two have a 13-hour conversation about psychoanalysis and Jung’s work on Speilrein, who has left the hospital to study psychiatry as she also helps Jung out in various studies.

When Freud sends Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) to Jung for treatment, Gross would end up stating his own ideals of sexual perversion and liberation as it would affect Jung’s relationship with Speilrein leading to an affair with the two. Yet, it would cause complications for Jung as Freud wonders what troubles Jung leading Freud to visit Switzerland. The affair would end due to pressure as Speilrein makes some demands to be become a patient for Freud as the two men travel to America to discuss the world of psychology. Speilrein would visit Jung years later seeking aid for her dissertation on sexual psychology leading to a fallout between Jung and Freud that included Jung’s own conflicts of interest over everything he’s worked on.

The film is an exploration into the world of psychology from two of its great minds in the early 20th Century. Spanning 10 years through various studies and conversations, it is a film where this one woman whose own psychological trauma and torture would challenge the ideals of two men and unknowingly break their friendship. While the film is a dramatization of what happened in those 10 years, it is an interesting study about the world of psychology as well as a human drama about these three people and how they’re shaped into this exploration of sexual psychology and how it would play into emotions and instinct.

Christopher Hampton’s script plays up that sense of intrigue into this woman’s own psychological torment as she arrives as mad patient who is excited by being beaten for sexual pleasure as it relates to her own abuse as a child. This would baffle someone as intelligent and driven like Carl Jung who hopes to find more about the world of psychology as he would use a method of his mentor/friend Sigmund Freud to understand this woman. What would happen is that his own ideals would be shaken by this woman as well as a patient of Freud where he begins to explore his own sexual desires. The film plays as a character study of sorts in the character of Carl Jung as he eventually becomes a conflicted man devoted to his role as a top psychiatrist as well as being a man. He is in love with Sabina Spielrein but also is devoted to his wife Emma.

This would create a sense of confusion as it would later involve the more experienced and respected Sigmund Freud. Freud is a man that is looking for someone who is willing to carry his teaching as he believes that Jung is the man for the job until Jung deviates from Freud’s own teachings by going further into the unknown. This would create the kind of tension between these two men as Spielrein starts to go into Freud’s own methods and forge her own ideas much to Jung’s chagrin. While it’s a story that is quite complex and at times, can be overwhelming due to its study on psychology. It is still a very broad script by Christopher Hampton.

David Cronenberg’s direction is truly hypnotic for the way he re-creates early 20th Century homes and towns as it’s shot mostly in Germany with parts of it in Austria. While it is a period drama with costumes made of the time, Cronenberg doesn’t exactly go for an entirely straightforward picture. Instead, he is more concerned about the dramatic implications of psychology as well as what drove these individuals apart. The sexual content isn’t very explicit but does dare to be dangerous as this strange behavior regarding sex was very new and taboo at the time. Cronenberg chooses to downplay all of that by trying to find natural reactions to these events while still having the film focus on its three central characters as well as its two supporting characters.

Cronenberg creates some visually-gorgeous compositions to a lot of the images set in Switzerland that includes a lake where Jung and Freud would have conversations on a boat. Yet, it is the way Cronenberg frames the actors in these conversation scenes that prove to be very spectacular. He would have the dominant actor in a close-up of sorts while the other would still be in the background observing. There would be a few cuts back and forth to maintain the rhythm of these conversations as Cronenberg is interested in what is needed to be said. While the film is Cronenberg showing some restraint in his approach to camera movements and wide depth of field shots of the locations. He does create a truly mesmerizing film that explores the very complicated yet fascinating world of psychology and human nature.

Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky does an extraordinary job with the film‘s very exquisite and beautiful photography. Notably for the daytime exteriors in Vienna and Germany to complement the beauty of the locations while maintaining a much darker yet stylized look for the nighttime interior scenes which includes Jung‘s time with Speilrein. Editor Ronald Sanders does an excellent job with the film‘s editing by maintaining a straightforward yet effective approach to the cutting while utilizing rhythmic cuts for the intensity of the conversations. Production designer James McAteer, along with set decorator Gernot Thondel and art director Sebastian Soukup, does an incredible job with the set pieces created such as the big home of Jung and his office as well as Speilrein’s apartment and the lavish office of Freud to express their personalities.

Costume designer Denise Cronenberg does a brilliant job with the period costumes created such as the suits and hats the men wear to the lovely dresses and white silk worn by the women including Sabina and Emma to contrast their different personalities. Visual effects supervisor Wojiech Zielinski does a nice job with the film‘s minimal visual effects scene such as the ship traveling to America scene to create backgrounds of early 1900s New York City and of the ship‘s exterior.. Sound editors Wayne Griffin and Michael O’Farrell do a wonderful job with the sound work to convey the sparse intimacy of the conversations as well as the sounds of horse carriages and objects presented in the film. The film’s score by Howard Shore is spellbinding with its array of somber piano pieces and lush orchestral cuts to play up the dramatic tension and romantic elements of the film.

The casting by Deidre Bowen is phenomenal for the small ensemble that is created in the film. Sarah Gadon is terrific as Carl Jung’s young wife Emma who tries to deal with his sudden detached behavior while grounding him from his studies. Vincent Cassel is great as controversial patient Otto Gross who would push Carl Jung much further into his exploration of sexual perversion and behavior while being a sly seducer to the nurses at the hospital. Keira Knightley’s performance is pretty good in some parts where she brings a sense of energy and passion to the character of Sabina Spielrein. Though it doesn’t start off great early on as she is extremely over the top early on while displaying twitches that feel very off as well as Knightley’s Russian accent that sounds more American than Russian. Though it’s good in some parts, it’s a performance where Knightley doesn’t seem to rise to the challenge.

Viggo Mortensen is brilliant in the role of Sigmund Freud as Mortensen brings a very calm yet charismatic performance to the famed psychologist. Notably as he also displays a sense of passion and reasoning needed for this character as it’s definitely Mortensen at his finest. Finally, there’s Michael Fassbender in a very chilling yet captivating performance as Carl Jung. While it’s a very restrained performance as a gifted psychologist who finds himself being challenged. There is also a great sense of anguish that Fassbender displays as he’s dealing with his own idealism changed as well finding himself in conflict with Freud and eventually, himself as it’s a very brave yet harrowing performance from Fassbender.

A Dangerous Method is a remarkable yet very engaging film from David Cronenberg that features outstanding performances from Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen. While it may not be one of Cronenberg’s more stylish yet suspenseful-driven films. It is still a very interesting one for the way Cronenberg would explore the world of sexual perversion as well as its psychological attributes. Notably as it would allow audiences to explore that world and why it was so taboo at the time. In the end, A Dangerous Method is a smart yet alluring film from David Cronenberg.

© thevoid99 2012


s. said...

Great review although I found the movie excruciating to sit through and Knightley's performance was one of the worst I've seen, she will need many good roles and many good years to rebuild the damage she did here.

thevoid99 said...

I had issues with Knightley's performance as well. The jaw-thing annoyed me at times though she does have her moments when she's just being restrained. It's not a great performance where it seem she is trying to hard though I think some of the blame should be on Cronenberg.

Unknown said...

As a huge Cronenberg fan I wanted to love this, it's well made from top to bottom and the usual suspects all put in great work, but the result I found lacked the special somethign that make most of his other films irresistible and memorable.

thevoid99 said...

I still liked the film for its study on psychology and the early exploration of sexual perversion.

I do agree that it does lack something as I wanted it to be a bit more dangerous. I appreciate what Cronenberg was doing and I do like the film. Yet, I'll take a minor Cronenberg over everything else.

s. said...

Definetly, if Cronenberg guided her a little through the movie maybe Knightley would be able to find some balance in her acting.

thevoid99 said...

@Sati-I think Cronenberg is at fault with directing Knightley in that way. I think a much less superficial and showier actress would've done something much more to that character. Keira Knightley is an excellent actress but hasn't really done enough to really take risks or do more to restrain herself in these kinds of drama.