I guess before reviewing “A Dangerous Method,” I should say at least a couple of words about its subject: psychoanalysis and people impersonating it. A long time has passed since psychoanalysis was considered to be an extraordinary, revolutionary, and scandalous method. Today it is often seen as nothing but one of the ways to treat various psychic conditions; many opponents criticize psychoanalysis for what they often call narrow-mindedness: Freud and his followers believed every aspect of the human psyche should be viewed and analyzed through the prism of sexuality. Even in times when Freud’s method was the most authoritative novelty, there were people who refused to reduce all the non-cognizable versatility of the human mind only to sexual impulses and their repression. Surprisingly, one of such critics—and later, the most intransigent of Freud’s opponents—was Carl Gustav Jung, a man whom Freud himself considered to be his ideological heir; a man, whose contribution to the development of psychoanalysis was as significant as Freud’s; a man, whose personality and relationships with other people were far less harmonious and rational than it could be expected from a psychoanalyst.
And now back to the movie. Filmed by David Cronenberg in 2011, it is a story not just about psychoanalysis itself, but rather about the relationships that famous psychoanalysts had with each other, and with their patients. With one patient, in particular: Sabina Spielrein, a hysteroid young woman, who arrives (or, better to say, is delivered) to a Swiss clinic to get psychological treatment from Carl Jung—a young, convinced follower of Dr. Freud’s method. Jung uses dream interpretation and word associations as a part of the treatment; he also has long conversations with Sabina, and when her condition stabilizes, Jung starts to notice that she is clever, discerning… and beautiful.
In the process of treatment, Jung discovers that Sabina’s condition was caused by humiliations her short-tempered father caused her when she was little; the repressed arousal she felt when being punished, as well as a number of other factors caused Sabina’s hysteria and masochistic propensity. The more Jung learns about Sabina, the more he likes her; he is married, however, and cannot afford cheating on his wife… at first. Later, after talking to Dr. Eugen Bleuler, who believed that repressing sexual impulses is the shortest way to psychological traumas, Jung finally subdues to passion and starts a whirlwind romance with Sabina.
Retelling the plot any further would make little sense, since its intricacies are worth seeing with your own eyes rather than being read about. I’ll just mention that gradually, Jung realizes the limitations of Freud’s method—not without Sabina’s help—and starts developing his own concepts, which lays the basis for future conflict between these two psychoanalysts. The relationship with Sabina is not easy either… but alright, enough spoilers.
What I enjoy about the movie are the characters. Each of them has a specific feature, so to say, a line of behavior, and the actors do their best to reveal the motives, feelings, and conflicts driving Freud, Jung, and Sabina. I especially enjoyed Viggo Mortensen’s depiction of Sigmund Freud; an authoritative old man, proud with the importance of the treatment method he discovered—and at the same time manically afraid of his authority being questioned and shaken. Freud fiercely opposes any new ideas that might change psychoanalysis as he sees it; in particular, this is why he does not accept Jung’s theories, and later claims to be disappointed in him. Jung, in his turn, is torn apart between his moral principles restricting any relationship between doctors and patients, his passion for Sabina Spielrein, his reputation, and his family. Besides, he feels that Freud’s method is imperfect, that a manic desire of the latter to conserve psychoanalysis and keep it away from changes does more harm to science than good; and at the same time, he respects his teacher and does not venture to oppose him yet. Finally, Sabina, whose hysteria, love for Dr. Jung, and her own vision and understanding of psychoanalysis, brings even more chaos to this tangled clue of relationships.
The camera work in the movie is excellent as well: decorations, costumes, and design—generally speaking, the visual part of the movie—is almost perfect. The atmosphere of Europe of the 19th century is conveyed brilliantly.
There are, however, several drawbacks that can slightly spoil the general positive impression of the movie. To start with, despite the film’s title, the actual psychoanalysis, is paid far less attention than it deserves. When I started watching “A dangerous method,” I rather expected to see a battle of ideas, an opposition between Freud and Jung, who would prove the worthiness of their methods, with Sabina Spielrein as their patient. Yes, I know that in real life, Jung indeed had an affair with Sabina, but besides romance there was also a lot of psychoanalysis going on between the two of them (once again, in real life, Sabina later became a respected psychoanalyst as well). However, instead of a thrilling psychological drama, David Cronenberg preferred to exploit Sabina’s masochism: if you want to see Dr. Carl Jung spanking naked Keira Knightley, this movie is for you.
Jokes aside, the story is not bad—just not something someone would probably expect from a movie about the two most famous psychoanalysts of all times.
Overall, “A Dangerous Method” is definitely worth watching. The acting, plot, and the visual component is great; however, if you are looking for a clever psychological thriller, you might feel disappointed. My grade: 8 spanked Keira’s out of 10.
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