Please, lie down on the couch… and tell me about your mother
Based on screenwriter Christopher Hampton’s own stage play The Talking Cure, A Dangerous Method is David Cronenberg’s examination of the relationship between Carl Jung (played here by the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Cronenberg fave Viggo Mortensen), and the development of Jung’s own brand of psychoanalysis through the treatment of the young hysteric - and future psychoanalytical evangelist - Sabina Spielrein (the ever-improving Keira Knightley).
On the face of it, it sounds pretty dry – and there are a lot of conversations in rooms, with face-filled shots – but it works. Set largely in Jung’s opulent Zurich surrounds with excursions to Freud’s Vienna (and I have to be honest, I’m a sucker for Mitteleuropa-porn; I believe if there is a heaven, it’s something like a Viennese Kaffeehaus) it looks fabulous, the acting is terrific (including a nice, brief appearance from Vincent Cassel, cast somewhat to type) and the subject itself is fascinating. At one point during their first meeting, Freud notes to Jung that they have been talking for thirteen hours; I felt I really could have sat and listened to this entire conversation – a testament to the skill and cinematic presence of the actors as much as the intelligent dialogue.
Unusually for a Cronenberg, there is next-to no bloodshed or body horror, and even the sex scenes are relatively chaste. In fact, beyond the subject matter this is quite an un-Cronenbergian film, though his instinct for shot composition and dramatic tension are in evidence; it’s atypical, but the directorial finesse can’t be knocked. Howard Shore’s score is also hard to fault, using brief whiffs of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll (written, famously, for his wife) during the more uxorious scenes, and otherwise remaining complementary and unobtrusive.
I’m aware that this film has attracted its fair share of criticism – of its wordiness, lack its slow pace, the meandering & unconventional plot, the lack of resolution, even the performances. I can understand these points and concede that this is an uneven, imperfect film and yet I still really enjoyed it. An emotional, irrational response perhaps – what would Freud make of that?