David Cronenberg has had what can only be described as an eclectic career in film. From the early horror shockers such as Scanners and his remake of The Fly through to Naked Lunch and Crash, there has rarely been a shortage of controversy. In recent years, the Canadian director has been working with Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises) and the relationship continues in A Dangerous Method, a study of the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud in the early part of the 20th century.
Based on a play, this is therefore an unsurprisingly dialogue-heavy piece, with Jung (Fassbender) developing his own style of psychoanalysis. He respects Freud (Mortensen) and while acknowledging that there is some truth in his assertion that mental problems are essentially sexual, Jung won’t accept that’s all there is to it. Meanwhile, Jung himself is treating a Russian patient called Sabine Spielrein (Knightley) and is finding himself attracted to her in an entirely unprofessional manner. As he struggles to come to terms with his feelings, he also comes to blows (intellectually) with his father figure Freud.
What’s odd here is that for a Cronenberg film the only controversy is that this really isn’t very good. For a start, the tone is all over the place. At the beginning there are some excruciating scenes of Keira Knightley being melodramatically mad, but not long afterwards Jung and Freud are exchanging quips while smoking cigars and supping on brandy. There are some amusing lines but also some very dry exchanges which are probably accurate but do nothing to create tension or progress the plot.
It could be argued that plot isn’t the point here but with little in the way of action (some restrained spanking scenes aside) there isn’t much else to get excited about. Knightley is really ‘acting’ (i.e. it’s way over the top, even for someone in need of therapy), Fassbender looks almost permanently baffled (and his accent is still wavering at times) and only Mortensen comes out of it well. Actually, Vincent Cassel has a nice cameo but it’s not nearly a big enough part to save this decidedly strange concoction.
A Dangerous Method is a decent introduction to the history of psychoanalysis and given Jung’s relationship with Sabina there are some mildly interesting discussions about sexual mores. But as a drama it’s uneven at best, feels stagey and some of the editing is decidedly amateurish. After the gripping, gritty Eastern Promises this is a huge letdown and while not a complete disaster it’s certainly isn’t one of Cronenberg’s best. Not by a long way.
EXTRAS ★★ There's just an audio commentary with Cronenberg, and a making-of featurette (8:00).