Sunday 19 August 2012

A Dangerous Method (2012) - David Cronenberg

"Never repress anything".

These are the words of maverick psychoanalyst Otto Gross (Vincent Cassell) to Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and it's a sentiment at the centre of A Dangerous Method.  Cronenberg's film is an exploration of the beginnings of psychotherapy in the early twentieth century, when the differing views and methods of Jung and Freud informed the whole history of psychoanalysis.  Based on actual events, the plot hinges on the notion of transference, where the patient's unconscious desires are redirected onto the therapist.  When Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is admitted to Jung's clinic, he is unable to keep his own desire for her in check, resulting in a tumultuous affair.  What are the dangers when, applying his theories to his own life, the therapist becomes the patient?

The predominant theme is the idea of creation from destruction.  Freud's cure for neurosis was to release repressed desires from the subconscious, this cure dependant on the therapist remaining detached.  By failing to repress his own feelings and committing sin, Jung risks his marriage and personal life in favour of a dangerous, sadistic sexual relationship.  Yet in the process, he is able to develop his theories from personal experience.

The most interesting relationship of all is that between Jung and Freud.  An early disciple of Freud, the Father of psychoanalysis, Jung gradually developed his own theories that contradicted Freud's, in addition to their opposing religious views.  However, this plays out mainly in the odd theoretical conversation and a series of monologued letters tacked on towards the end.

Instead, Cronenberg chooses to focus on the relationship between Jung and Spielrein, therapist and patient, reducing the film to a mere love story.  There's something clinical about the pair, the film playing out in measured fashion.  This is meant to blur the boundaries between patient and lover, but there's very little chemistry between them.  We never get a sense of their volcanic desires for one another, Spielrein's seduction of Jung happening too suddenly.  Why would he risk everything for a mad woman?

Fassbender gives a decent performance as the intellectual Jung, the stilted script suiting his erudite personality.  Knightley's Spielrein is a very disturbing character.  Though the Russian accent is wonky, her chin does a wonderful job and she's convincing enough.  If you're looking for some believable passion, though, you're better off reading 50 Shades.

The exterior shots especially are beautifully shot, but the narrative feels slow and hollow.  A Dangerous Method is less passionately dangerous and more ploddingly methodical.  It might provide a light lesson in psychoanalytical theory, but its central relationship is as exciting as a light spanking with a damp fish.