David Cronenberg’s latest film, A Dangerous Method, is a slow moving, cerebral drama that never really reaches its full potential.
Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is dragged kicking and screaming from a carriage into a mental hospital where she will eventually become Karl Jung’s (Michael Fassbender) lover. She is also his first patient to be treated with Freud’s new ‘talking cure'.
Jung and Spielrein’s first meeting highlights the enormous contrast between the twisted and primal Sabina and the upright, dignified Jung. Fassbender’s performance subtly embodies the struggle between desire and repression as he quietly keeps a ridged check on his growing interest in Sabina, whereas she is at times so unravelled she is unable to function.
Although initially distracting, with her over the top contortions and stuttering Russian accent, Knightley’s performance brings a fierce edge to the film, however even this fails to make the shifting relationship between her and Jung, patient to lover, lover to colleague, truly captivating.
The interest lies in the discourse between Jung and Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Injecting humour into his portrayal of the vain Freud, Mortensen brilliantly plays the oedipal father figure to Fassbender’s intellectually rebellious Jung who is initially heir to Freud’s theories and later his rival.
The film has great performances from the entire cast including the unruly and darkly charming, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassell), who portrays the embodiment of libido and proves to be one of the most seductive elements of the film, but the plot still lags.
The tension that is hinted at is never fully rendered. In the large, clear spaces where the narrative is set darker corners of the subconscious don’t really frighten. There is no doubt that the ideas of Freud and Jung are powerful, and when contextualised in their own era their novelty should be even more shocking, but this new method isn’t believably dangerous.