Cronenberg’s Method more boring than dangerous

The Canadian director's latest film has glimpses of greatness but ultimately disappoints

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Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender give unimpressive performances as Sabina Spielrein and Carl Jung (Photo: Pink Cow Photography/Flickr)

Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud changed the world. Their theories and the intense relationship the men shared have the potential for a great film.

The problem is Canadian director David Cronenberg's latest movie, "A Dangerous Method," ignores the most interesting things about these men. Instead Cronenberg gives audiences a look at a romance that may or may not have influenced Jung and Freud's ideas.   

A Dangerous Method

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Sigmund Freud (played by Viggo Mortensen) is portrayed as pompous rather than a psychological genius. (Photo: Wordscraft/Flickr)

 

The movie follows the sexual relationship between Carl Jung and one of his patients, Sabina Spielrein from 1904 to 1913. Within this story is the development and eventual disintegration of the professional relationship between Jung and the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.

The film starts with Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) being dragged, literally, kicking and screaming into the asylum in Switzerland where Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) works. Jung takes Spielrein as a patient and, uses what he calls the "talking cure,", the first use of Freud's psychoanalysis. With the help of Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Jung is able to "cure" Spielrein of her madness. She becomes his student and eventually his lover.

Jung's relationship with Freud soon begins to deteriorate. Freud is disgusted that Jung has broken the most important rule of psychoanalysis while Jung despises Freud's inability to accept any psychoanalytic theories but his own. 

As a student of both men, Spielrein goes on to become the world's first female psychoanalyst.

The movie's final scenes depict Jung slowly falling into madness which would last throughout the First World War, after which, Jung would emerge as the world's greatest psychoanalyst.

The actors

Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein

Knightley gives the film's best and worst performance. Her portrayal of a sexually inexperienced teenager whose desires have driven her insane is endearing at times. The subtleties of her madness leave the audience feeling for the character due to the torture that sexual abuse has caused her.

But the rest of her performance is laughable. Knightley's depiction of Spielrein's anxiety attacks are unrealistic. Her movements are too calculated and unnatural. leaving the audience feeling disappointed by the actress rather than feeling pity for her character. Making things worse is Knightley's Russian/German/English accent, which is as distracting as it is amateurish.

Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud

Cronenberg and Mortensen have collaborated twice before, in "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises". These were two fantastic and dark films, much different than "A Dangerous Method."

Mortensen's portrayal of Freud has potential but is ultimately one-dimensional. The audience gets glimpses of a greatly influential man, but mostly sees a condescending know-it-all who treats everyone around him as inferiors.

The most engaging aspect of Mortensen's Freud shines through during his meetings with Jung, as the two discuss theories and dreams. However, these scenes are short and the audience is left with a desire for more.

Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung

Fassbender has recently delivered great performances as British spy Lt. Archie Hicox in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto in last summer's "X-Men: First Class."

But this performance was disappointing.

Fassbender's depiction of the great doctor quickly becomes too much. Twice Jung stands in the doorway of Spielrein's hospital room like Clark Kent fresh out of the phone booth. Coupled with his superhero looks, this would have been cheesy even in X-Men.

Fassbender lacked emotional variety. The character portrays the same unconvincing sadness when trying to break off the affair as when he and Spielrein reignite it years later. In addition, his dislike for Freud and his struggles with being a monogamous family man come off as whiny and childish.

The audience is supposed to feel for this man, but there is no emotional connection there to make.

A Dangerous Problem

The best scenes of Cronenberg's latest effort come when Jung and Freud were engaging in psychoanalytic discussions and when Jung treats Spielrein during her madness. The problem is these parts take up only a quarter of the film and the audience is left wanting more.

The rest of the film is a romantic tragedy infused with psycho-babble. The film's characters seem uninspired and the most interesting aspects of their personalities are largely ignored. The result is a movie that shows glimpses of greatness but only amounts to being predictable and boring. 

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