A Dangerous Method Review
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Through psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud sought to examine his patients’ deepest, most innate urges and desires to help them find relief from various psychological disorders. He delved into the depths of their character, studying what, exactly, made them tick. It’s surprising, then, that director David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method—a film that focuses on the methods of Freud and Carl Jung—would be so detached and underdeveloped.

While it touches on the troubled relationship between Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Jung (Michael Fassbender), though, A Dangerous Method is really more about the relationship between Jung and patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).

When she’s first brought to Jung, Sabina is completely out of control, suffering from fits and attacks that seem to stem from her father’s abuse. For his new patient, Jung decides to try Freud’s experimental treatment, known as psychoanalysis or the “talking cure.” Each day, he sits down with Sabina to discuss her past and her problems, and he soon learns that she’s a strong and intelligent woman. As she begins to heal, he brings her on as a research assistant. And when she enrolls in medical school, they continue their relationship—first as a mentoring relationship, then as friends, until they eventually begin an affair.

For a film about legendary psychiatrists who sought to examine the deepest, darkest recesses of the human psyche, A Dangerous Method is shockingly cold and distant, barely exploring the characters, their relationships, or their behavior. Instead, it’s a rather straightforward story about a doctor-patient relationship—one that isn’t really all that interesting. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that Knightley’s performance is often distracting—from her over-the-top hysterics in the beginning to her alternately wooden and fidgety performance later in the film.

Freud and Jung, on the other hand, have a fascinating relationship—one that, sadly, is only minimally examined. Mortensen gives a noteworthy performance as Freud, yet he’s shamefully underused, relegated to a minor role as Jung’s curious but often condescending mentor. The pair’s relationship, meanwhile, turns out to be little more than a series of letters—each one filled with jealousy and bickering, often childishly diagnosing the recipient with various psychological disorders as a way to explain away their disagreements.

In depicting such intriguing historical figures, A Dangerous Method could have—and should have—taken the time to get inside their heads, offering some insight into the characters and their rocky relationship. Instead, it keeps the characters at an arm’s length, and audiences are left with a dry and rather clinical study of an ill-advised (and less than compelling) romance.

DVD Review:
If you find yourself wanting to know more after watching Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Mind, you might want to turn to the special features included on the DVD release—but you’ll end up learning much more about Cronenberg than about Jung and Freud.

The special features menu offers plenty of insights into Cronenberg’s filmmaking process. The short making-of feature takes a look at everything from the characters and their costumes to Cronenberg’s vision for the film. At less than eight minutes in length, though, it’s not long enough to explore any of the many areas that it covers in much depth; it only provides a brief overview.

For a more in-depth look behind the scenes, then, you’ll want to watch the AFI’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar with Cronenberg. In this interview—followed by a Q&A session—Cronenberg shares his thoughts on things like casting and the role of a director, as well as his own personal filmmaking philosophies, discussing this film as well as his career as a whole. He’s an easy-going subject—and it’s clear that he’s well-researched and knowledgeable, too—making it an interesting (albeit rather lengthy) feature.

For even more on the film itself, though, you can choose to listen to Cronenberg’s commentary track, which offers even more insight into the story, the characters, and the process. As an added bonus, the film’s dialogue is conveniently subtitled, allowing you to listen to Cronenberg and keep up with the film at the same time.

Of course, while the film’s fascinating subjects are often mentioned throughout the DVD’s extras (from Freud’s cigar habit to Jung’s financial dependence on his wife), you’ll still probably find yourself wanting to know more about the characters after you finish watching them. You will, however, walk away with a better feel for Cronenberg as a director.

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