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A Dangerous Method


a dangerous method poster

If I were more scientifically inclined, I would have loved to study psychology. The way in which the mind works is infinitely fascinating, especially the abnormalities. Some think the best way to investigate our behavior and ticks is to look biologically at our core. Others, myself included, believe one of the most intriguing ways to learn about abnormalities is to study what is on the surface: facial cues, mannerisms, speech, etc. This practice is put on display in mildly compelling fashion in A Dangerous Method.

Grade:

B-

As I discussed in Girl, Interrupted, the study of psychology and behavior modification is an extremely young science. A Dangerous Method dives even further back to the onset of humane practices, with Freud’s (Viggo Mortensen) talking method being utilized by Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) on a particularly hysterical, curious patient named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). When Jung becomes enamored with Sabina’s sexually adventurous personality, he begins to unravel and his relationship with his occupational mentor, Freud, weakens.

The film presents Freud and Jung’s opposing theories on the best ways to treat patients, or rather which ways to steer patients towards recovery. Freud, in the film, believes his role as psychiatrist is more about curing the patient of their ailments, while Jung focuses more on reinventing the patient anew from a fresh base. It’s a curious moral quandary about the use of psychoanalysis and its effect on sick individuals. I wish Method had delved a little deeper into this juxtaposition, but alas, that movie would not sell.

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No, what does sell is sexual tension, even among intellectual giants. Of course, with any discussion of Freud, the onus will likely fall on sex because heck, that’s what humans are about, right? As a result, David Cronenberg emphasizes the sex early and often to engage the audience.

Mortensen does a solid job if you factor in the diminished role the film provides Freud. He is kept on the sidelines for much of the film and stays relevant mostly through references, not direct screen time. Originally, Christoph Waltz was considered for this role, which I believe would have allowed Freud to take on a more domineering presence in the film. Mortensen never really exudes any sort of gravitas that had been given to the man by introductions from Jung and other colleagues.

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Meanwhile, Knightley fades in and out. Her representation of hysterics is unnerving and captivating, but she removes herself—and subsequently, you—from the role through her speech. Sabina is a Russian emigrant who has found herself in Zurich to be treated by Jung. As such, Knightley takes on a Russian accent and succeeds when not forcing emotion behind her lines. During more frantic scenes, of which there are many for Sabina, Knightley loses the accent and the complexion of the scene changes. I give her credit for trying, but the film would likely have benefited from an agreement amongst the actors to speak in British accents, including Mortensen.

While this may seem like an overtly negative review, I found A Dangerous Method to be surprisingly interesting. The story is engaging and the cast, despite the minor shortcomings mentioned above, keeps the movie afloat. It’s certainly not a movie for everyone, but if you find psychology and abnormal behavior intriguing I’d say give it a try. Maybe you’ll learn a little something about your subdued sexuality…

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