David Cronenberg is one of the greatest working directors, of that there is little question. But for those who’ve been following his work since the beginning, his career has taken a turn for the respectable. It’s easy to suggest that he’s holding back the weird for the sake of possible Oscar glory (which was denied him here) watching something like A Dangerous Method. But there’s enough perversity and intelligence in the film to mark it as a Cronenberg movie, even if it doesn’t go all out. Michael Fassbender stars as Carl Jung, who takes in Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) under the suggestion of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). From there, things get weird. Our review of the Blu-ray of A Dangerous Method follows after the jump.
The film starts with Knightley’s Spielrein coming to Fassbender’s Jung. She’s all twitches and stuck-out jaw when they meet as she’s considered a hysteric. Jung uses Freud’s methods and gets some results – a while later and she’s achieved some normalcy, but only after confessing that she’s turned on by sadomasochism. Jung reports to Freud that he used his talking cure method, and the two become friends. Freud then encourages Jung to take on Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), a fellow psychologist who embraces his id to the point that he’s encouraged patients to kill themselves, and has slept with many. Otto feels that most people are too inhibited, and should pursue their desires come what may.
Their conversations turns Jung on to the idea of sleeping with Spielrein. As she pursues a career in psychology, the two begin an affair, which Carl keeps from his wife. And he becomes closer to Freud, but as the two are both shrinks, every word is measured. Freud –as a Vienna Jew – loves that Jung is a gentile and sees him as a shining light in their profession, but can’t stand his interest in mysticism. Freud views anything unscientific as a booby-trap for their work. When Jung excels, Freud sees him half as a pupil, half as a threat.
What’s brilliant about the film – and Christopher Hampton’s screenplay – is that every conversation is a chess match between smart people. Since most of the major players are analysts, everyone is measuring the words around them. And Cronenberg keeps all his actors in top form. But where the film thrills is when it engages in the sadomasochism that is at the heart of Knightley and Fassbender’s relationship. The sex there is fascinating, and you wish the film could be more about that. But then when Fassbender is squaring off against Mortensen, you wish the whole film were on that level. There are great highs in the movie.
But A Dangerous Method seems hemmed in by history; it’s almost too much of a bio-pic to be successful. You’re engaged with the actors – though some have complained about Knightley’s twisted routine at the beginning (it never bothered me) – and so you want a more than just a greatest hits package. That’s not a bad place to be left, and the film rewards multiple viewings. The film excels because you get four actors at the top of their craft at the center of the movie, and there are no bad performances.
And if the full narrative feels like it’s being a little too clever in its denouement, you can always rely on Cronenberg to provide an interesting, almost surgical sense of where to put the camera. It’s weird to note that Cronenberg has often made his films around 100 minutes, but that’s one of his great strengths as a filmmakers. He doesn’t waste anyone’s time with his films. The fun of framing and the characterization seems to win over a strong narrative finish, and that’s a little frustrating, but minor Cronenberg is still a delight.
Sony Pictures Classic’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. The transfer is immaculate, and perfectly recreates the theatrical experience. Extras include a commentary by director David Cronenberg, and he’s one of the best commentators in the business. He knows why he chose every shot, and he’s happy to back up most scenes with their factual basis. “The Making of A Dangerous Method” (8 min.) is a bit glossy, but if you didn’t get enough Cronenberg insights from the commentary then the featurette “AFI’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar with David Cronenberg” (31min.) adds greater depth. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included.