Friday, November 25, 2011

A Dangerous Method (2011)

A Dangerous Method
Dir. David Cronenberg

3.5 out of 5

For a man who
helped shape many of the 20th century's philosophical underpinnings, Carl Jung seems forever destined to stand in the long cultural shadow of Sigmund Freud. Even though Jung's modern contributions to the field of psychoanalysis - among them, the archetype and the collective unconscious - eventually had a sweeping effect on a discipline born of Freud's 19th-century model of Victorian repression, few people discuss individuation with the same zeal and amusement as, say, hidden phallic symbolism. A Dangerous Method shows us, to some extent, the great influence that Jung would have on human psychology. But it also manages to be a sort of validation of Freud's cultural supremacy, with director David Cronenberg mining Jung's private life for intelligent and racy examples of the mind's inevitable willingness to succumb to its darkest and deepest desires.

Portraying Jung during his initial rise to prominence throughout the early 20th century, Michael Fassbender is a model of restraint, maintaining an idyllic psychological institution in the Swiss countryside and an oddly platonic relationship with his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon). His interest is piqued by a new patient, an unstable Russian heiress (a game Keira Knightley), on whom he employs the then-radical "talking cure," teasing out details of her past in intimate conversation until she gradually admits that her mental issues are being caused by the suppression of her masochistic sexual desires. Faster than you can say "physical therapy," they conduct a torrid affair that inspires Knightley to begin her own psychiatric training and informs the ideas that bring Jung to Freud's attention as a rising young colleague and potential rival for supremacy in the field.

The rhythm of the story is classically Cronenberg. Lurid temptation doesn't merely loom, it waits expectantly for its cue and slides in between intense discussions of psychological import; it's the kind of movie where academic insights are often reinforced by a brief, thorough spanking.
A Dangerous Method gets too obvious at times, particularly in the scenes that feature Viggo Mortensen as Freud, who plays him as a highfalutin, cigar-chomping, dream-interpreting patriarch. It's a portrayal that owes a lot to the fantastical celebrities of Midnight in Paris, especially as Cronenberg positions him as the film's scheming villain. It's heavily implied, for example, that Mortensen sends a debauched, cocaine-addicted colleague (Vincent Cassel) to Fassbender's retreat to convince the stoic psychiatrist to unleash his repressed lust for Knightley. Fassbender keeps the film from veering too far into camp territory, however, with a quiet, smoldering torment that belies the theatricality and lurid sex appeal of the goings-on around him: a deadpan re-affirmation of Jung's hard-won pragmatism being outmatched by Freud's intellectual fireworks show.

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