Mortensen, Knightley shine in ‘A Dangerous Method’

By Acacia DiCiaccio

Courtesy MCT Campus

“A Dangerous Method” explores the lives of two of the most renowned names in psychology: Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The story opens in 1904 with Jung, played by Michael Fassbender (“Inglorious Basterds”), performing his first trial of cognitive behavioral therapy on the disturbed Sabina Spielrein, played brazenly by Keira Knightley (“Pirates of the Caribbean”). The film follows the life of Jung as he explores new methods for treating the mentally unwell as well as his sometimes rocky relationship with his mentor, seminal psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Jung’s involvement with his patient develops into more than a professional relationship, catalyzing the polot. When he meets patient and psychiatrist Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel, “Black Swan”), Jung arrives at a new paradigm which strains his emotions between his family and his own sexual desires.

The representation of these different theories may be confusing to those without nuancing in psychology, as clinical terms are used throughout the narrative. But many with any awareness of the basic theories of Jung and Freud will find it amusing to see the moviemakers’ take on how the famous psychologists arrived at their enduring conclusions.

Viggo Mortensen (“Lord of the Rings”) shines in the role of Freud. Though many of Freud’s theories have been rejected by more modern psychology and he is famously known as a sex-obsessed cocaine addict, his character in this film becomes extremely likeable. Whether the director favored Freud and wanted to show him in a positive light or if Freud was not as crazy as he is described today is left up to the audience to wonder. While Freud’s character is shown in a saner light than the one in which he is sometimes cast, Mortensen still is not be found in a scene without a hallmark cigar in his mouth.

“A Dangerous Method” is a rather heavy film. Knightley’s rendering of the clinically insane through her character Sabina can be discomfiting for the first half of the movie, as her scenes are long and tense and her acting can veer a ways into over-the-top territory. The weight of the film also comes from the outpouring of various emotions and ideas – theorizing about life, death, sin, happiness and seduction is no light task. The cinematography is oftentimes brash, and director David Cronenberg, known for his specialty in the horror genre, appears unafraid to give his audience unpleasant feelings in order to accurately depict real life.

It goes without saying that a film about Sigmund Freud would also have scads of sex scenes. Cronenberg finds no shame in directing these scenes, reinforcing the sexual enlightenment of the Freudian theories.

Those interested in psychology, especially those studying it now, will find this movie interesting and enthralling. It touches on theories about psychoanalysis, sexuality and polyamory, just to name a few. But if psychology isn’t one’s forte, one may find the film a bit boring and slow. Most of the dialogue involves theorizing and abstract clinical observations, making it easy to lose the big picture themes through the trees.

The film is almost entirely character-driven, with acting strong enough to carry the story without much action and a relatively slow pace. At times the film seems to drag, but the cast’s stellar performances save what could have been a boring picture.

The question one often asks when seeing a piece of art is, “Why am I seeing this? What is the point?”  “A Dangerous Method” does not clearly lead to a point, and it features a conclusion that could be considered unfulfilling. However, it artfully depicts the lesser known parts of the lives of these staples in the field of psychology.

“A Dangerous Method” is currently showing at Amherst Cinema.

Acacia DiCiaccio can be reached at [email protected]