A Dangerous Method (2011; David Cronenberg) is another superlative film from this most singular of directors, one that tackles subjects familiar to the filmmaker’s fans (mad doctors; body-horror; the mind-body split; the body in rebellion; the pain in our heads that never goes away; sexuality and repression; misdirected creativity; and so on), but presented in a thoughtful and precise manner showing Cronenberg’s maturation as an artist and human being.
Cronenberg’s still blowing up heads; just in a new, more intellectually rigorous manner.
Set at the start of the twentieth century, this short (only 99 minutes long) but incredibly dense film takes on a very heavy subject: the birth of psychoanalysis.
Sabina Spielrein (Kiera Knightley, whom I’ve only seen in the Disney Pirates flicks—I had no idea she could act so well!)
has been shipped to the sanitarium, and there meets young Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender, batting 1.000 with another seemingly effortless perf).
He’s been looking for the right patient to try the new “talking cure” that Dr. Freud has been writing about.
Eventually Jung’s work gets him noticed by the great Freud, and the men begin a professional friendship.
At the same time, Jung has begun a probably unethical affair with the disturbed Sabina, who is nearly as brilliant as both men.
Carl, Sigmund and Sabina wind up messing with—and improving—each others’ minds (and theories), via top-notch performances backed up by a literate script and Cronenberg’s easy but precise direction (not to mention the perfect technical back-up they all receive).
As already mentioned, the film is a continuation of Cronenberg’s fave themes: when Sabina describes a waking dream of a “mollusk against my back,” she’s essentially describing a scene out of Shivers, Cronenberg’s first theatrical feature! Fassbender’s Jung is almost a young Dr. Raglan from The Brood, and Viggo Mortensen’s Freud (who’s more of a wily desert rat than a boring Germanic headshrinker) is a kinder version of Patrick McGoohan in Scanners, just without the super-pharmaceuticals. Nor should we forget the kinky doctor ménage a trios from Dead Ringers…
Supremely intelligent people talking about the profound, the mystical, the philosophical and the psychological is utterly fascinating, and
Christopher Hampton’s script deserves to be proud of itself—
although much of the film’s dialog comes directly from Jung, Freud and Spielrein’s notes, diaries and letters: It’s more than 100 years later, and they still speak to us!
While I’m not officially a Jungian, I guess you could call me a Jung-o-phile: long story short, Jung’s universe of symbols and archetypes thriving in the collective unconscious speaks more to me than Freud’s more reductive theories about how everything psychological is solely centered around genitalia.
(Wisely, the movie presents these contrasting arguments, as well, but without choosing sides.)
That said, I don’t mind seeing young Carl Gustav Jung portrayed as an ambitious, impatient and self-centered young man—and one who refuses to see that his wife’s great wealth (and the bourgeois propriety—and hypocrisy—that it demands) is as much a hindrance as a help.
No wonder the flick ends with Jung on the verge of a nervous breakdown!
The Jung of A Dangerous Method is certainly not the jolly, mystical grandpa-figure with the twinkle in his eye that I studied!
Which is fine: It is my belief that the only successful biopics are the ones that choose to illustrate the five to ten “most important” years of that person’s life—this list includes Patton, Ed Wood, and Lawrence of Arabia;
these flicks don’t pull the tiresome “cradle to grave” presentation that takes every moment of a person’s life and flattens it out into a dull roar—where the viewer has nothing more than a list, a catalog of events, usually boring since everything has been given equal importance.
What successful biopics do is create the world where our protagonist’s true purpose can be seen either in action or development; where their past and future are observable in their actions in the “now” of the film. Watching A Dangerous Method, I could see the mistakes (and triumphs) that would lead to the creation of the great teacher, scientist and researcher we know Jung becomes.
Films that plug into my interests in a specific and intelligent manner are so damn difficult to find that I embrace A Dangerous Method with both arms and squeeze tightly.
However, I do wish that they had stuck with the title of the source book “A Most Dangerous Method”—that title has an air of distinction and place that the shorter, more generic genuine title of the film does not, in my opinion.
That’s a minor quibble, though, for such a thought-provoking, intellectually stimulating masterwork.
Since 1981’s Scanners, I’ve watched most of David Cronenberg’s films on either their initial theatrical or DVD release, and
I love that while I’ve been maturing, so has Cronenberg’s work, and that we’ve sort-of been keeping pace. Maybe even growing up together…
Thanks Uncle Dave!
(Now I really have to finally finish reading Carl Jung’s Man & His Symbols…)