Birth of the unconscious

A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method
Pageant Theatre. Rated R. Ends tonight, March 29.
Rated 4.0

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the founding fathers of modern psychology, had an intense and mostly collegial friendship early in the 20th century when the theories and practices of psychoanalysis were still in their formative stages.

The emotional and intellectual dynamics of that short-lived relationship are central to A Dangerous Method, but the real dramatic fire comes via one Sabina Spielrein, a medical student (and future psychoanalyst) suffering from acute hysteria. Jung takes her on as a patient suitable for treatment with Freud’s then-experimental “talking cure.” When patient and analyst subsequently plunge into a brief but furious romance, crises result for all three.

David Cronenberg’s fascinating film, adapted from a play by Christopher Hampton and from John Kerr’s non-fiction history of the volatile triangular relationship, brings a lively cinematic energy to its briskly efficient mixture of period piece, chamber play and character study. It’s also a kind of half-deflected love story, frank and fiery enough to earn an R rating, and sufficiently intricate and incisive to suit the psychological intricacies of the characters.

Freud (Viggo Mortensen) is the lofty father-figure hovering over much of this story, but the stormiest elements of the drama center on Jung (Michael Fassbender). The doctrinal conflicts between the two are adroitly absorbed into the behavioral and dramatic action—no lectures, just exceptional performances and highly charged conversation.

In this account, Jung emerges as the more expansive and adventurous of the two—emotionally, intellectually, spiritually—but Jung’s story is also a matter of half-tragic wavering between the comparatively stolid and cautious Freud on the one hand and the more liberal and daring alternatives represented by Spielrein (Keira Knightley) and Otto Gross (a wild and wooly Vincent Cassel) on the other.

Knightley, who does astonishing work with the physical contortions of Spielrein’s psychic distress, is exceptional throughout. Mortensen’s Freud, both imperious and twitchily evasive, is a little miracle of sublimated nuance. Fassbender works a similar low-key magic with Jung’s ambivalence, which he renders as both repressed and fertile and the latter perhaps more than the former, when all is said and done.

22nd Title Film info

Body of second review.