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A Dangerous Method

A movie directed by David Cronenberg.

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When Talking Was Experimental

  • Nov 24, 2011
Star Rating:

Sabina Spielrein was one of the first female psychoanalysts, a fascinating achievement given the fact that she was committed to a mental institution for an entire year. After studying medicine and child psychology in Zurich, graduating in 1911, and getting elected into the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, she proposed an idea in 1912, namely that the human sexual drive contained both an instinct of destruction and an instinct of transformation. Her death in 1942 at the hands of an SS death squad would all but erase her from the history books until her hospital records, journal entries, and letters to and from Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud were discovered and published; it’s now widely accepted within psychiatric circles that her 1912 proposal greatly influenced the works of both men.
Spielrein is one piece of the puzzle in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method. We follow her, Jung, and Freud in a story that examines their complex relationship, which is simultaneously strengthened and threatened by their field of interest. Academically, they recognize the frailties of the human mind and strive to steer others in socially acceptable directions. Personally, they continuously fall victim to the mental weaknesses they so carefully study, and they become increasingly aware that social acceptability doesn’t necessarily translate to common practice. Strange, how even those who categorize people into absolutes can themselves fall within ambiguous parameters. Perhaps it’s those very absolutes that drive people towards unhealthy behaviors.

One focus is the relationship between Jung and Spielrein, which begins in 1904 and develops over the course of nearly a decade. Initially, Jung (Michael Fassbender) was a fledgling twenty-nine-year-old psychologist, who was married to a gentle but passive woman named Emma (Sarah Gadon) and was expecting his first child. Spielrein (Keira Knightley), Russian-born but able to speak fluent German, was a violent, severely traumatized eighteen-year-old mental patient placed under Jung’s care, having been diagnosed with hysteria. Under an experimental form of therapy known as “the talking cure,” Jung sits behind Spielrein and listens as she struggles to verbalize her problems. She eventually reveals a childhood marred by beatings and humiliation at the hands of her father. Further sessions unwittingly reveal a sexual proclivity: She becomes uncontrollably aroused by physical force.
This discovery brings Jung into the life of his mentor, Freud (Viggo Mortensen), as it validates his theory that sexuality and emotional disorders are intertwined. As the years pass, what began as a cordial, clinical acquaintanceship deteriorates into a stubborn clash of ideologies; Jung becomes increasingly bothered by Freud’s unwillingness to reconsider his theories about sex, whereas Freud cannot tolerate Jung’s growing interest in spirituality. During their initial correspondence, Freud refers Jung to a psychiatrist-turned-patient, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), a drug addicted hedonist; his arguments against monogamy inspire Jung to violate his code of ethics and begin an affair with Spielrein, which continues long after she ceases to be his patient and enrolls in medical school. This is not merely a physical attraction. He has truly fallen in love with her.

I have no way of knowing how historically accurate this film is, given the fact that the relationship between Jung and Spielrein has never been substantiated. There is, however, some compelling evidence of their affair, most notably the fact that, unlike Freud, Jung never publically acknowledged Spielrein’s influence on his work. Rumors of other extramarital affairs also continue to circulate. Given this history, it’s easy to see why Jung is portrayed as a weak man in the film – intellectually brilliant but emotionally stunted, consumed by guilt over a situation he could have prevented. He continues having children with his wife, and yet he cannot detach himself from Spielrein, who may be troubled but is also incredibly intelligent and sincere.
The screenplay by Christopher Hampton, adapted from his stage play The Talking Cure (itself adapted from John Kerr’s nonfiction book A Most Dangerous Method), is well suited for the actors, the dialogue clever, elegant, and packed with emotion. In true psychological form, every line suggests a hidden meaning. This is especially apparent with Freud, portrayed as a piercing intellectual who isn’t interested in solutions so much as the underlying problems – which, it seems, all stem from the sexual organs. His scenes with Jung flow like verbal ping pong matches. The scenes with Jung and Spielrein are fascinating in that they’re founded on more than curiosity, desire, and passion; they depict the birth of a psychological movement. Herein lies the greatest strength of A Dangerous Method: It’s a film to be listened to and not just watched.


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April 29, 2012
Good movie. Entertaining, superbly acted, intellectually stimulating. The dramatic elements were kinda so-so for me, and Knightly overacted in the beginning of the film (to say the least), but overall it's a flawed but engaging character-driven period drama.
April 30, 2012
I personally don't think Knightley ever overacted in this film, not even during the early scenes. Her character was severely traumatized and could not be expected to act normally.
December 09, 2011
I was a psych major, so I love this stuff! Sounds semi-trippy. Will definitely have to check this one out. Thanks!
December 10, 2011
Thanks for the comment. I believe the film is worth seeing. It is, above all, a historical drama. The psychological aspects are really just subtexts.
November 24, 2011
Cronenberg's name always almost gets me to the theater and this has a stellar cast sounds like. I believe this is playing near my area; man, I guess I am so behind that I need to catch up. My schedule is rapidly ruining my theater-going habits, and the holidays are not going to make it easier.
November 26, 2011
It's a good film. But whatever you do, don't go in expecting his trademark body horror. This film is, above all else, a historical drama. By the way, I hear you about having to catch up. You wouldn't believe the number of movies I have to go through before the end of the year.
More A Dangerous Method reviews
review by . April 29, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****    How you feel about David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" is dependent the most on just how much you know about the topic of the film, psychoanalysis. Those who work closely in the field as profession are likely to write it off as inaccurate and unconvincing, while those who know most of the basics and at least some of the complexities would be expected to enjoy and embrace the film with open arms, as I did. Starting off, I don't know too much about psychoanalysis …
review by . December 09, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Too methodical to be dangerous
A DANGEROUS METHOD Written by Christopher Hampton Directed by David Cronenberg Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen   Otto Gross: If there is one thing I’ve learned in my short life, it’s this: Never repress anything.   Canadian director, David Cronenberg, is synonymous with exploring sexuality and psychology on screen. In his latest epic, A DANGEROUS METHOD, he lets our minds get lost amidst these two forces as they intersect in Austria …
review by . November 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'A Dangerous Method' 'Two Jews On Film' Only One Is Psyched By Cronenberg's Latest
      By Joan Alperin-Schwartz      Sigmund Freud...Carl Jung...So what comes to mind when you hear these two names?...Certainly not, the director David Cronenberg. who's more known for making twisted, dark horror/scifi('The Brood', 'Scanners' 'The Fly) than cerebral relationship dramas.      But with his new film, 'A Dangerous Method' that's about to change.  This is the story of three people...Sigmund …
Quick Tip by . January 06, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Hello there!    Anyone interested in a little extra insight into A DANGEROUS METHOD, should check out my interview with director, DAVID CRONENBERG here:    http://blacksheepreviews.blogspot.com/2012/0...s-david-cronenberg.html    Thanks for reading!
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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