David Cronenberg began his career as one of the world’s most original horror filmmakers, drawing upon our unease about our own bodies to create bold, unsettling films like THE BROOD, VIDEODROME and THE FLY. In the last two decades, though, Cronenberg has shifted his focus from the body to the mind and from horror to drama, and this transformation culminates in A DANGEROUS METHOD, a period piece set at the dawn of psychoanalysis. It’s about the close relationship between the father of analytic psychology, Carl Jung—played by Michael Fassbender—and Sabina Spielrein, a Russian psychoanalyst who began as a patient of Jung’s. She’s played by Keira Knightley.
As the years pass—and this is where A DANGEROUS METHOD crosses over from the factual to the speculative—a strange sort of romance develops between the straight-laced Jung and the intense, masochistic Spielrein.
There’s another relationship at the center of the film—the one between Jung and the man who was first his idol, then his friend and eventually became his rival—Sigmund Freud. Viggo Mortensen, who usually plays rugged masculine loners, is cast very effectively against type as the cautious, urbane Freud.
A DANGEROUS METHOD might seem like a conventional period drama at first glance, but don’t be fooled. This is as unsettling—and personal—a film as any that Cronenberg has directed. The difference is that, while in Cronenberg’s earlier films, the characters fought to take back control of themselves, here they’re fighting to understand the whole world. This is a big thumbs up from me.
Thumbs up from me as well. We were talking earlier about Hugo and how different that seems to be for Scorsese. This would not seem like a David Cronenberg film at all. It seems like a gentile period piece until you ponder that the monster is within Keira Knightly, and she’s a monster in their midst, and she’s a source of fear and—and paranoia and eventually understanding. But for a long time she’s just this volatile animal, and it kind of seems like an over-the-top performance at first.
Yeah, she seems really hysterical at first…
…almost cartoony, but then as the movie goes on she tones it down.
Right, and it becomes almost sexy. The volatility in her the—the fear she brings to them—I mean especially Jung. He thrives on it, and he’s fascinated, and it gets him out of this very staid world. Um, Viggo Mortensen you mentioned how different he seems to be here, and yet, he gets These smart zingers. The presence is still there with the very dialed down performance.
Yeah he—he’s just such a great actor. Um one thing I really like about this film, and I think it’s touching on something that’s very personal to Cronenberg that he’s never really talked about or he’s talked about it in interviews. He’s said that being jewish has been, you know, a big part of his perspective being an outsider. He’s never really made a film on the subject, and I think almost the secret subject of this film—it’s something that becomes a bigger and bigger part as it goes on is anti-semitism.
Right, and Freud gets these very passive-aggressive kind of zingers in and appeals to Sabina that way as well.
Yeah, like when they travel on a—on a—when Jung and Freud travel together on a steamship, you know, Jung goes up into his first class state room because he’s from a wealthy Protestant family where Freud, who is more famous has to travel coach.
Right, yeah that tension keeps evolving there with all of them. Okay.