Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender in 'A Dangerous Method' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Review: ‘A Dangerous Method’

Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender in 'A Dangerous Method' (Sony Pictures Classics)
Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender in 'A Dangerous Method' (Sony Pictures Classics)

A new film by David Cronenberg is always reason to celebrate, but ‘A Dangerous Method’ dampens expectations, offering up a curiously muted object, one to be admired rather than embraced, a fascinating academic discussion that remains resolutely distant from any sort of easy interaction.

Centering around Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), the story takes up his life at a point where the young psychiatrist is drawing favorable attention from Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), the father of psychoanalysis. When they meet for the first time, they easily talk the night away, the hours racing by like minutes. Jung is willing to (respectfully) challenge Freud, who enjoys the intellectectual curiosity of the younger man.

What serves to highlight their increasing differences of opinion is the case of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a young Russian woman who arrives with a bundle of tics and spasms to receive care from Jung and his revolutionary new “talking cure” method of treatment. Freud sees every psychiatric problem as a manifestation of sexual issues, while Jung believes that doctors should get at whatever the root causes of aberrant behavior prove to be.

At least, that’s what I got out of it. Lacking a foundation of knowledge about Jung, Freud, psychiatry, or psychoanalysis, ‘A Dangerous Method’ comes across as very impersonal. It seems determined to address only a limited audience, and takes a low-key, quiet approach in the conveyance of information and (presumably key) plot points and character revelations.

More than incidental pleasures can be found in the performances of Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender. Mortensen’s impersonation of Freud is spirited and sly, suggesting a man who is well aware of his own position in the community, and only open to new ideas up to a point, a point that might threaten his standing and/or reputation.

Fassbender, in what is for him an (almost) straightforward lead role, embodies the personality of a principled man who struggles through various crises. First he must deal with his sexual attraction to a patient, while maintaining emotional fidelity to his devoted wife Emma (Sarah Gadon). Then he must contend with the challenges thrown at him by Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), a psychiatrist with new, bracing ideas about psychoanalysis, coming from his own personal experience. And he must come to terms with the chasm that develops between him and his mentor, Freud.

Definitely worthy of investigation by fans of Cronenberg, Fassbender, and Mortensen, ‘A Dangerous Method’ may play better on repeat viewings, but even a single viewing will reward the dedicated psychoanalytic movie buff.

‘A Dangerous Method’ is now playing at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano.