There is always something eerie and specific about a David Cronenberg film. Horror, explosions, emotions that most people would never dare to admit to. These have been his trademark and his genius for many years over the course of films as diverse as the post-modern Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) a film of the 'scientific experiment gone awry' genre, the clever mind and reality-bending eXistenZ (1999) a better film than the now cult-like The Matrix (also made in 1999), and more recently the excellent and atmospheric thriller set in a foggy London about the shadowy Russian mob, Eastern Promises (2007).
Cronenberg, a Canadian, has often been funded by the government to produce his risky but critically acclaimed films. Today he is one of the most adventurous and skilled directors in the West. In the world of cinema, a Cronenberg film is a rare and specific kind of hybrid animal: science and horror intersecting with high drama and violent action. There is a distinct departure from that in A Dangerous Method (2011). Everything that Cronenberg has ever dealt with overtly is now beneath the surface, subtle, instead of in-your-face. In many ways all of the themes that Cronenberg has been fascinated with over the years culminate and are manifested in this film - sex, repression, violence, obsession, and the fate of human civilisation. It is therefore apt that A Dangerous Method is about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the forefathers of psychoanalysis and the first brave few who dared to posit the now pop culture theory that sexual repression is the root of all neuroses.
Based on the true story of a highly disturbed patient, a Russian Jew named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who is deposited at Carl Gustav Jung's (Michael Fassbender) exclusive clinic in Switzerland, the film chronicles Jung's budding interest in 'the talking cure' and its effect on the half-demented Spielrein. Kiera Knightly's terrifying, contorted performance is spine-chilling, and it is her unexpected acting skill that truly highlights the improvement Spielrein is able to make with the help of the now widely practiced psychiatrist's couch method.
Slowly Fassbender's uptight but mystically inclined Jung develops a bond with Freud through Spielrein's case and its success. The episodic quality of the theater-based screenplay highlights how difficult it must have been then, at the beginning of the 20th Century, to develop highly technical theories without an element of personalised discourse. The two men struggle with each other's ideas and tendencies and Viggo Mortensen's wonderful performance humanises the now mythical Freud into a warm, slyly humourous, cigar smoking father-figure who slowly starts to disapprove of Jung's mysticism. In fact, it is the generally outstanding performances through-out that carry along the series of events in this highly intellectual and very talky film.
As Speilrein's life becomes more interlinked with both Freud and Jung, she recovers and becomes a psycho-analyst and intellectual heavy-weight in her own right. It is when she instigates an affair with the tightly wound Jung that the film starts to deal with the dark corners of the human mind.
There are many layers and intricate discussions in this incredibly complex film (pun intended). Today, we take our neuroses for granted, we are able to talk ourselves through them, mostly. None of this would have been possible without the crucial events that took place in Switzerland and Vienna on the eve of the first and second World Wars, in the lives of three extraordinary individuals.