sun 21/07/2024

A Dangerous Method | reviews, news & interviews

A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method

Michael Fassbender stars in this blandly bourgeois tale of Jung and Freud

Portrait of the artist as a Jung man: Jung and Spielrein (Fassbender and Knightley) share a Freudian slip

Those who are “Jung and easily Freudened” (to misquote Joyce) need have nothing to fear from David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method.

Yes, it’s the film where Michael Fassbender takes a cane to a barely corseted Keira Knightley, but don’t let the S&M seduce you; in an elaborate double bluff, it turns out that this costume drama is every bit as blandly bourgeois as its fin-de-siècle characters, with less sex than the average episode of Downton Abbey.

While the fascination with society’s more deviant elements is classic Cronenberg, there’s little else here to signal the director’s input. The film is strait-jacketed by Christopher Hampton’s script (adapted from his own play The Talking Cure), which trudges with all the energy of a museum curator on a Friday afternoon through the early history of psychoanalysis and its famous rift between the patriarchal Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his professional “son and heir” Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender).

Unfortunately the film is distracted along the way by Jung’s patient and mistress Sabina Spielrein. What could have been a fascinating psychological face-off between two brilliant, troubled men (think Sleuth in starched collars) instead retreats into a rehashing of Hollywood’s eternal dilemma between romantic duty and devotion, as Jung finds himself predictably torn between his orderly beige marriage and a Freudian slip of an affair with the delectable Sabina.

A lot of attention has fallen on Knightley’s (pictured above right) role in this project, most particularly in relation to “those” scenes. Despite a wayward Russian accent (presumably intended to establish her as the exotic “Other”, but in practice just distracting from the business, er, at hand) she copes well enough, playing ugly with the same relish she displayed in Never Let Me Go, if slightly less dramatic restraint.

Fassbender’s Jung spends a lot of time looking inscrutable yet morally conflicted, and does it very well indeed, but all the urgent masochistic encounters in the world cannot bring colour to his on-screen relationship with Knightley, whose aberrant passions fade into the surrounding monochromes.

Mortensen as Freud (pictured above) is rather more interesting, but he too is swiftly sacrificed on the horns of Hampton’s script, playing the rational, self-made Jew to Jung’s superstitious, wealthy Swiss Protestant. A cameo from Vincent Cassel (pictured below) as psychoanalysis’s black sheep Otto Gross (“never repress anything”) is brilliantly anarchic, but far too brief to redeem the stiffness that surrounds it.

Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography caresses the soft stone of Zurich (and the even softer skin of the women) with indecent tenderness, creating glowing, gorgeous images filled with all the life that the action lacks. With such disparity between the visuals and the dusty historicism of the dialogue, Cronenberg’s cast don’t really stand a chance, leaving the audience desperate for the merest hint of psychology from characters whose business is the human mind.

Lacking the depth of a character study, the ambition of a serious historical piece, and indeed the sex for a properly meretricious romp, A Dangerous Method is a classic case of cinematic repression. It treads so carefully, guards its behaviour and actions so scrupulously, that it buries its truths beyond recovery. You can sprinkle all the voyeuristic titillation in the world around the screen, but no shots of a convulsively excited Keira Knightley are going to compensate for a lack of substance – or, for that matter, a lack of sex.

The diagnosis is in on Cronenberg’s ailing film, and it’s not looking good. I suspect Dr Jung would prescribe six of the best.

  • A Dangerous Method is on general release from Friday

Watch the trailer for A Dangerous Method

No shots of a convulsively excited Keira Knightley are going to compensate for a lack of substance


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters