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A Dangerous Method — film review

I’m being darn good progress in my 2014 film-watching endeavours, even if I do say so myself!

A Dangerous Method (2011) stars Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender as Freud and Jung respectively, with Keira Knightley as Sabina Spierlrein, a student and colleague of both. All three put in masterful performances, the first two conveying emotional truths whilst presenting as models of self-control, the latter putting in a wonderful physical performance that is slowly laced up. Although not strictly a gripping plot, it is a great character drama that is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

This film was on my list because the Cronenberg – Mortensen combination is one of my favourites, and I do love my psychoanalysis! I didn’t know a lot about of the biographical details surrounding Freud and Jung, though, as my academic interest is more towards Lacan and Kristeva, so the film was almost entirely fresh to me.
Although billed as a description of the relationship between Freud and Jung, the film is more properly a chronicle of the relationship between Jung and one of his patients/colleagues/lovers, Sabina. It begins with their first meeting, follows her through her analysis with him into an affair, and out the other side into colleagueship. Freud is an initial inspiration to Jung, and later to Sabina, and moreover gets drawn in between them after Jung breaks off the affair and Sabina pursues Freud as her analyst. Her wavering between the two men’s theories – and personalities – is part of the intellectual and emotional tussle between the two men.

I like that the film has a genuinely biographical feel to it. Characters come and go, such as another analyst, Otto Gross, played by Vincent Cassel, children are born without great fanfare, and we see only the merest snippets of the characters’ lives, the ones that they might consider most memorable. Without any strongly guiding plot trying to force emotional connections, between the characters or between the audience and the characters, it is fascinating to see these three great actors try to navigate their characters’ emotional relationships whilst inexorably drawn to critical (intellectual) analysis of each other, which despite its ostensible objectivity is so obviously biased so much of the time. Their knowning analyses are sometimes, but not always, blind to their interpretative choices, and each of those moments is convincingly acted but not overweighted. Overall, the film is wonderfully balanced between the three main characters, and it’s a very pleasant watch. 

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