Made in 2011, this film was directed by David Cronenberg and purports to tell about the relationship and ultimate rift between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. It also reports the relationship and affair between Jung and Sabina Spielrein, a patient who eventually becomes a psychiatrist herself.
Cronenberg is an excellent director, but I feel he dropped the ball a little here. This is in part due to the script, but Cronenberg fails to elicit any real tension from this story. The environment is very well constructed. The time and place are created expertly, and the viewer can immerse himself/herself in the atmosphere without reservation. This is not the usual kind of subject matter for Cronenberg, and I have to wonder whether he is so focused on doing something different from his more violent offerings that he drifts away from emotion altogether.
Emotion, or its lack, is the main problem here. The interactions between Jung and Freud are interesting, and their intellect and understanding is obvious. However, their disagreement, borne it seems from pride and inability to see each other’s point of view, is anti-climactic. The viewer feels no real passion, no anger or frustration. The men conduct even their disagreement in a gentlemanly, civilized manner, as I suppose they would in that culture and time, but surely there was a way to make us feel it? We don’t feel it.
The relationship between Jung and Spielrein is just as devoid of depth, despite more overt emotions being displayed, at least by her. We are supposed to believe that this is a great love affair. It’s an affair, certainly, but I couldn’t see much love in it. Jung fancies his patient, and he acts on it. The patient’s fixation on him can hardly be trusted given the doctor-patient relationship. Basically Jung takes advantage of Spielrein and has a sordid little affair, cheating on his (blameless) wife. Again, there is no passion.
What makes this all the more frustrating is the presence of three excellent actors in the leading roles. Michael Fassbender plays Jung, Viggo Mortensen plays Freud, and Keira Knightly plays Spielrein. I don’t feel the problems with the film can be attributed to them at all, as they played the roles they were given very well. Mortensen was very under-used, and that is a shame as he is always a joy to watch on screen. Knightly is assumedly following direction in how she plays Spielrein, and at the beginning especially there are some very odd moments. Does a person suffering from this form of mental illness really grimace and convulse like this? I’m not an expert, but I would not have been surprised to learn that there was a physical cause underlying what we see. Knightly was in better form when playing the various different moods Spielrein exhibits (mania, agitation, fear, aggression, and so on).
I enjoyed the intellectual aspects of the film. The verbal fencing between Jung and Freud is fun. I wanted more, however. We could have learned more about the ins and outs of the theories, how they were developed and refined. We don’t get that. We don’t get to know the characters on any level. Nothing really happens, and the film remains superficial.
“A Dangerous Method” is not a terrible film. It’s okay, but it is a film that could, and should, have been a great deal better.