Film Review

Film Review
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The Talking Cure

A Dangerous Method is a mixed bag

Film Review / We get so few dramas about real culture icons, we should rejoice when an eccentric director like David Cronenberg gives us such a fascinating one: the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The film examines the friendship, and then falling out, between the two indisputable titans of psychology and psychoanalytical methods, revolutionary in all sort of implications, even when incomplete or wrongheaded.

The method that was first called “the talking cure” seems to be a kind of hybrid between the strategies of the Austrian theorist and the Swiss philosopher/psychologist.

The problem here, the first of several, is that, if you do not already have some foreknowledge of these two giants’ methodologies, some key aspects of the film story might be confounding. It must have been a difficult choice for Cronenberg: oversimplify the material (the brutal way the studio did with John Huston’s Freud, scrapping most of Jean-Paul Sartre’s screenplay) or risk confusing some of the audience. Those who do not “understand” are likely to think the movie only a kind of sophisticated “love” (but not romantic love) story. It’s more than that, but it’s still a bit puzzling.

With an excellent screenplay by Christopher Hampton, based on his play, the film seems at first to be about a psychiatric patient, and eventual psychiatrist, Sabina Spielrein, and her cure, effected by both doctors. Played by top-lined Keira Knightley, the tortured Spielrein opens the film, and might seem to us incurable. Trying to keep the film short at 99 minutes, Cronenberg perhaps does not show us enough of the two men’s techniques; but, as it turns out, his emphasis is on how the patient is “shared” by the two, one of them making her his mistress. (“I want you to punish me,” she says to the doctor whose name will not be given to you here.)

The acting by Michael Fassbender (Shame) as Jung and Viggo Mortensen as Freud is absolutely first rate, with Mortensen scarcely recognizable. Freud is given rather short shrift here (more’s the pity); and, in fact, the narrative seems to shift in favor of Jung almost altogether, probably because he is Cronenberg’s cup of tea–favoring aspects of “mysticism” over Freud’s rigorous opposition, so fearful was he of even more opposition from his many critics. (Next up, the Nazis.)

The dénouement of this story (not merely how it comes out) is nearly all subtext in the last 15 minutes of the film, not at all helpful to an inexperienced audience reared on simplistic television fare. For some, that subtext will not even exist, which, it would seem, is something the filmmakers might even want. (You’ll have to see for yourself.)

That last sentence is my way of cautiously recommending this impeccable-looking film, which might pique your curiosity into investigating the subject. Then read Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, an autobiography of sorts.

In short: terrific acting; fascinating “real life” story premise; some insight into these great men’s methods, if not theory; and nearly reasonable length, another unusual film for the Cronenberg canon. This is an international venture, with financing cobbled together from at least four European countries–and Cronenberg’s home base, Canada.

A Dangerous Method is far from perfect, but still worthy of your careful attention.