A Dangerous Method marks the third film that director David Cronenberg had collaborated with actor Viggo Mortensen, casting him as the famed Sigmund Freud in a tale that examines the relationship between three prominent scientists in the early days of psycho-analysis, with the other two being Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), set in the early 1900s, adapting from the play The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton, which in turn was based on the non fiction book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr.
While one of Cronenberg's most accessible and straightforward films as are his other Mortensen starrers in recent years, the story based on real people provides that compelling watch as it takes the viewer on a relatively scientific journey full of hypotheses and theories on psychosis, psychiatry and sexuality even, listening keenly on heavy discussions that even the layman can pick up, and stay engaged that I won't deny may be attributed to the charismatic cast who play their real life counterparts with aplomb. Events that unfold and with scenes set in are based on real incidents, so that provides a bit of historical accuracy, albeit there's always that dramatic license adopted to tell a tale especially involving more private moments amongst the characters.
Michael Fassbender, Hollywood's recent It guy, sets the stage as Carl Jung, who in his active practice in a Swiss hospital sees him introduced to Sabina the patient, brought in from Russia and having treatment by Jung using Freud's methods. A correspondence with Freud results in the two spending time with each other exchanging ideas and concepts, forming a professional friendship although Jung admits to Sabina that he's a little bit wary and apprehensive. Who wouldn't be, when one takes another's theory and sees the results obtained when utilized.
It's a tale about professional rivalry, and how sometimes one's perception of friendship becomes totally jaded when feelings aren't really reciprocated in expected terms, such as when Jung shares his most intimate dreams with Freud for interpretation and analysis, much to his slight disgust for Freud's penchant for dissecting and co-relating everything in fairly sexual terms, but for the reverse to never happen because of the big fear that in doing so renders one vulnerable to the other. And this professional relationship turned rivalry under the most natural and expected terms, with Mortenssen and Fassbender disappearing into their roles thanks to heavy makeup, is what makes this somewhat like a mirror to our own personal life when we reflect upon our own friendships kept.
But with Keira Knightley's Sabina Spielrein in the picture, it provided an additional complexity between the two men, especially when Jung breaks the doctor-patient relationship and enters into a more intimate, sexual one with Sabina, in a certain way also goaded and encouraged by Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel in a minor role), to whom some proponents of free love will credit him for that concept. This adulterous relationship behind the back of Jung's wife Emma (Sarah Gadon) adds a tinge of danger and destruction to the professional life of Jung as it threatens to boil over, with Sabina's emotional instability, and threats of blackmail, especially when rumours and anonymous letters start to fly, points to a difficult resolution in having to confess one's deeds to a mentor or peer. It's not an easy thing to do, and instead of physical violence as seen in the other recent Cronenberg films in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, this one sees more of a psychological tussle and one-upmanship between the three historical characters involved.
Lush in production values to bring back the early 20th century with sets, costumes, and even an ocean liner thrown in for good measure, what will result in A Dangerous Method will be that spark of interest to read up more about the true life characters involved in this story, to dig a little bit deeper into the theories they created and the ideas they each support and differ from one another. Knightley, without a signature look to hide behind, is memorable as Sabina in the introduction, fighting against her inner demons, and then growing into a confident professional complete with Russian accented English to boot.