Review: A Dangerous Method (2011)


David Cronenberg found his niche in the late 70s with body horror. His mutilation and mutation of characters was perfected well into the 90s, leaving a trail of classic films such as Shivers (1975), The Brood (1979), Videodrome (1983), and Crash (1996). His latest features have departed from his earlier forays, replacing his gory masterpieces with explorations of psychological territories. One can even postulate that he continues his exploration of the body by focusing on the mind, which is exactly what he does in his latest feature, A Dangerous Method (2011).

The trailers and advertisements erroneously advertise the film as more of a torrid romance than a psychological drama. They tend to suggest that the film primarily focuses on the relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (played magnificently by Keira Knightly), which is not the case at all. A Dangerous Method is an account of Carl Jung’s (Michael Fassbender) encounters with Spielrein (with whom he would have a sadomasochistic affair) and with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), whose own hubris would complicate his relationship with Jung. The film weaves in and out of the relationship between Spielrein and Jung, using it sparingly in order to complicate his life and his work. At times, it is even used as a decoy, standing in for Jung’s relationship with Freud and complicating their ties to one another. These relationships unfold over the course of an hour and a half, revealing that the connections Jung had with these two people would impact both himself as well as his theories pertaining to modern psychology.

The actors play their characters well, but none does a better job than Knightly. Her interpretation of Spielrein echoes the performances of Isabelle Adjani in The Story of Adèle H (Francois Truffaut, 1975), Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981), and Camille Claudel (Bruno Nuytten, 1988). Knightly pushes herself toward unknown boundaries and delivers a beautiful, and often times frightening, performance. Countering her hysterical madness is the levelheaded Fassbender, whose performance as Jung is neither here nor there. Though he looks dashing in period-attire, his mannerisms, actions, and delivery of lines leave little to be admired. The only moment when he breaks his levelheadedness and truly tackles the emotions of his character comes toward the end of the film. By this point, it is too late to feel anything for Jung.

Cronenberg meticulously crafts A Dangerous Method as a film about social relationships rather than erotic entanglements. Because the characters are aware of the psychological implications of their actions, it makes this film all the more intriguing to watch. They realize why they act the way they act, yet they cannot save themselves from continuing to make the same decisions over and over again. They let themselves fall into their own man-made traps, and as a result, they must reap the consequences of their decisions.

Yet A Dangerous Method is not a solely a film about the consequences of actions, but rather it is about all the elements that go into making that action. Every action has a desire or impulse behind it. It is those desires and impulses that drive this film and keep the audience intrigued till the very end. Though Cronenberg decides to cut his ties to his gory body-horror films, the death and destruction that was laid waste by his filmography gave birth to a to a different kind of obsession. A Dangerous Method is not Cronenberg’s best film, but hopefully this exploration will lead Cronenberg towards a similar perfection that he achieved with his host of mutilated bodies.

76/100 ~ GOOD. A Dangerous Method boasts great performances by the supporting cast, yet it is still far from being considered Cronenberg’s crowning achievement.

Jose Gallegos

Los Angeles Film Critic. I'm an aspiring filmmaker from Los Angeles. Recently, I graduated from USC with my Bachelors in Cinema/Television Production and French (yes, I'm a "phile" for all things "cine" and "franco"). I will continue my academic career by pursuing a Masters in Film Studies at UCLA (feel free to call me a traitor).
  • Georgia Xanthopoulou
    Based on a stage play which was based, in its turn, on a book by John Kerr, A Dangerous Method is about the relationship a young Carl Jung develops with a troubled patient as well as the beginning and break-up of his friendship with Sigmund Freud. Most importantly, the film concerns itself with the events that probably caused the breakdown he suffered during World War I and the battle within himself as his values as a responsible physician clashed with his carnal desires.
    The film starts off quite rough. For those who may be frightened by the beginning of the film, I assure you it gets better. Keira Knightley doesn’t spend the entire time talking and dislocating her jaw like this. Even though she keeps the weird accent -she’s supposedly Russian in the film- and irritating way of acting. Knightley’s character, Sabina, is admitted in the hospital where Jung, portrayed by Michael Fassbender, is working. He starts treating her, in the beginning without her cooperation, but soon she starts to get much better.
    His approach to her treatment is ‘the talking cure’, a method Sigmund -Viggo Mortensen- Freud has come up whom, the audience soon finds out, Jung greatly admires. The two men first meet in order to discuss matters of their field as well as Sabina’s case and they grow very fond of each other. Jung goes to become Freud’s protégé, whom he trusts with the treatment of another doctor, Otto Gross, a sex and drug addict. So far so good. This first part of the film establishes Jung as a serious and trustworthy professional, as Sabina is transformed, with his help, from a wild animal to calm, eloquent woman. The admiration between the two great psychiatrists also helps render Jung as a man who takes his profession seriously and who has a lot to offer the field.
    And then the tables are turned and the film starts getting interesting. As Sabina starts getting better, it becomes clear that Jung has some soul searching to do as well. In the same way that Sabina gets better not by changing her ways but, simply, by accepting them, Jung must accept some difficult truths about himself as well. In fact, the whole film seems to imply that only by bringing our suppressed urges and desires to the surface we can live happy lives. The two characters who seem to serve as catalysts for Jung’s painful discoveries are Sabina and Otto, Vincent Cassel’s character.
    On the one hand, Cassel’s character is portrayed as kind of mad, but also as absolutely free from any notion that society engraves on people about what is right and what is wrong. On the other hand, the more Sabina becomes self-assured and, the more Jung discovers his darker side. Sabina becomes a highly respected academic and psychiatrist and is ultimately respected by both the men of the story. While Jung is afraid of what her tales can cause him, she reacts boldly but respectably, never losing face. Paralleling Sabina’s progress is the downfall, in one way or another, of Freud and Jung. While Freud is seen by everyone as outdated and too old to be able to bring something new to the table of psychoanalysis, Jung has to face his own suppressed desires and accept that they are a part of him. While Freud fades away, becomes more closed-minded about the direction psychoanalysis should go towards, Jung discovers he is closer to Otto than he thought, as his initial views on monogamy and the need to suppress sexual desires in order to be considered morally sound are overturned.
    The breakdown of Jung, as well as the notion that Freud’s sex-obsessed theories derived from his own rigid views when it came to sex is, probably, the most compelling aspect of the film. When these character arcs are combined with Sabina’s course-the patient who, by the end, has surpassed both the men in terms of peace of mind and, perhaps, career, what you get is a call for men and women to move forward, express themselves freely, with no prejudice. Most importantly, it‘s about the lesson all characters learn that one needs to truly know themselves and, however difficult, free themselves of unnecessary social constraints in order to have a chance at a meaningful life.

    Georgia Xanthopoulou at