Saturday, 18 February 2012

A Dangerous Method

Year:  2011
Director:  David Cronenberg
Screenplay:  Christopher Hampton, based on the stage play The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton, and the book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr
Starring:  Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon
Running Time:  94 minutes
Genre:  Period drama, 

This is another departure from Canadian director David Cronenberg, after moving away from the blood drenched science-fiction/horror movies that made his name (such as Shivers (1974), Videodrome (1982) and The Fly (1986)), to violent crime and gangster movies (such as A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007)), to the restrained genre of the period drama (a genre which he had approached before with M. Butterfly (1992)).  Set in the early 1900s, the film opens when Carl Jung (Fassbender) treats a hysterical patient, Sabrina Spielrien (Knightley), using the controversial theories of psychoanalysis devised by Sigmund Freud (Mortensen).  The treatment appears to be successful, and Spielrien goes on to train as a psychiatrist herself.  Learning of Jung's success, Freud quickly befirends him seeing Jung as a potential disciple.  However Jung's interest in spirituality and the paranormal against Freud's stringent pragmatism and rationality, as well as Jung's interest in the beautiful but volatile Spielrien soon threatens their professional and personal lives. 

This elegant film is artfully directed by Cronenberg who photographs his characters in long, lingering shots, alsmost as if they are the subjects of his scientific study.  At first glance there is very little typically "Cronenbergian" about the film, no killer parasites, or exploding heads, no killer TV networks, or mutant insect creatures, or even people getting their kicks from car wrecks.  However, the ambivalent depiction of sex and sexuality as forces both essential and dangerous is very Cronenberg.  The film is slow and deliberately paced.  The cast are excellent, especially Keira Knightley who provides an astonishing depiction of a hysterical attack at the beginning of the film.  Vincent Cassel also gives a striking performance in a small role as an "unconventional" psychiatrist who advocates the therapeautic value of sleeping with the female patients.  The script is intelligent but also accessible to those viewers unfamiliar with Jung and Freud and their theories, and the period design is immaculate.

The film might be a little too slow-moving for some and it certainly demands a lot of attention from the viewer.  Also it might alienate fans of Cronenberg's more traditional movies.  In a way it is a pity that he seems to have abandoned his horror/science-fiction subjects, but every artist needs to progress and develop, and Cronenberg is one of the most consistently interesting directors working.  In the end this film is worth checking out for anyone interested in a little more intellectual drama.

It's all in the mind:  Keira Knightley and Michale Fassbender use A Dangerous Method

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