Victoria Jelinek


A Dangerous Method

The plot is described as “a look at the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud that gives birth to psychoanalysis.” Okay, sounds a bit stuffy, but I studied psychology a bit and heavily relied on Freud’s social insights to write my dissertation, so it sounded intriguing to me. Add Director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Naked Lunch, A History of Violence) and sexy Viggo Mortensen and I’m sold. Going into the cinema I was skeptical about Keira Knightley’s role, but assuaged my worry by telling myself that she’d play a minor character, maybe even just a cameo, and that her name was simply attached to sell the movie.

The plot is not about Jung and Freud. There are minor elements of their relationship as it pertains to psychoanalysis, but they are secondary at best. The focus is primarily on the relationship between Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his patient, played by Keira Knightly, who overacts here to such a degree that it’s painful to watch and who is unfortunately in practically every single frame looking like a palsy victim (and I don’t wish to offend palsy victims by saying this). There is no chemistry between these ‘star- crossed’ lovers, either, despite some manufactured ‘erotic’ scenes. Even Viggo as Freud was dull, a disappointment. That said, no actor could save such a contrived script that is essential boring cliches and little action. But I save my greatest scorn for Cronenberg; I have loved his work in the past and it was his name that drew me to the cinema; but his signature ‘darkness’ (echoing Freud’s theories of the dark and sinister within all of us in society) was false here; there is no sense of direction, as scenes felt meandering and random; and the whole film seems to be lost in costumes and props.

Awful. Surprising, given the talent involved.  I’m wondering, too, who is this film for?  It’s ridiculously basic, as though written for folks who have never heard of Freud or Jung, reminiscent of a lecture at school given by a bored teacher.  It’s got a saleable actress who’s not known for being a great talent, suggesting a bid for commercial success, but the subject matter and the fact it’s a period piece is not likely ever to sell to a general population–which is not to imply that it’s  because it’s too heady or intellectual.  Screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Atonement, Dangerous Liaisons, and The
Quiet American) should have watched Fight Club and examined how psychoanalysis can be brought to the screen with subtlety and force.
As for Cronnenberg, I forgive him–in any canon of great work, there is bound to be a stinker.
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