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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen Have a Ménage à Trois in David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method"

While sexual exploration is more loose these days than ever before, back during World War I the very mention of sex was a scandalous taboo. Like, the very thought of it would give you the nervous shakes and you may actually start twitching. But that's where Drs. Carl Jung from Switzerland and Sigmund Freud from Austria came in--to alleviate the awkwardness and fuel further exploration and discussion.

In director David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen step into the shoes of the renowned but often misunderstood psychiatrists. Fassbender is 29-year-old Jung, husband and expectant father, who's on the verge of trying out a new method on his patients, a method instilled on him by fellow psychiatrist and mentor Jung. When a new patient is admitted into his hospital, the wild Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) suffering from a bad case of hysteria, he finds just the person for which he can dabble in some of Freud's teachings.

The rampant yet bewitching Sabina begins sessions with Jung trembling and clutching herself recalling abuse from her father, which often cause her to catch a fit at random. Most interestingly, she reveals her struggles with sexual oppression. This admission is the catalyst for more progressive sessions with Jung, which then lead to becoming sexual in nature.

All the while, the older and more accomplished Freud continues to communicate with his younger protégé through handwritten letters that are narrated throughout the movie. Most of them consist of Jung debating Freud's hyper-sexual philosophies in order to understand his theories (and possibly to fight his own temptations). Sabina approaches a breakthrough and begins to study the teachings of both Jung and Freud and offer her own knowledgeable insights to the prolonged debate. Meanwhile, Jung succumbs to his own oppression and professional disgrace.

Based on the book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr, which is inspired by actual events, A Dangerous Method is an engrossing tête-à-tête propelled by engaging dialogue between the three main characters. At times heavily verbose, the movie is much unlike Cronenberg's more action-reliant previous films including Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, and, in that respect, may not be for all audiences. The film, though highlighted by a showstopping performance by Knightley, is a rather performance-driven, stage-like piece.

As often in many sexual dramas, the female is still the only character whose body we see most of, while the male characters (though assimilating sex on screen), rarely show any skin and are often covered with many layers of clothing. Although this is a period film--taken place between the years 1904 and 1913--the movie is made in present day and should reflect the highly sexual nature of certain scenes (equally from both parties involved). That would have made the taboo more taboo (and less one-sided), and the sexual tension even more intense.

But, all in all, the movie is quite good and deserves more than one viewing just to keep up with the enthralling consecutive dialogues and often profound one-liners (scripted by Oscar-winning Atonement scribe Christopher Hampton). Knightley's marvelously seductive performance often overshadows those of her male counterparts, including the wonderfully brief and entertaining performance by Vincent Cassell as a sex-crazed deviant, but Fassbender's violently controlled performance also warrants recognition. Mortensen's triumphant return to the big screen after the lackluster The Road in 2009 is to be commended for the sheer addition to his diversified repertoire, but it also leaves audiences begging for more of him.

A Most Dangerous Method opens in theaters November 23rd.

Rating: B+


Lesya said...

I'm glad to hear that Keira was good.
Thanks for the review Candice. I'm looking forward to the film.

Sammy V said...

Wow. Although it's not action-driven like Cronenberg's other films, it sounds like A Dangerous Method is just as heavy as his previous movies.

Dan O. said...

Good review Candice. The performances are good, even though Knightley may be over-acting quite a bit, and it looks great, but the film also just feels like a series of vignettes with no real feeling or drama to it. Basically what I'm trying to say was that I was bored and this story just never really got off the ground.

Candice Frederick said...

@Dan O. Yes, I totally agree that it lulled at times. As I mentioned, it was incredibly verbose, which may lose the audience at times. But I appreciate what cronenberg was trying to do. It was interesting to watch.

(Fr) Dennis Kriz, OSM said...

I found this movie terribly disappointing. Nothing seemed to me to be very developed. I would have happily sat through a 3+ hour movie or even a mini-series about these people. Instead we got just an extended teaser. Freud and Jung were two of the most important figures of the 20th Century. Even Sabina Spielrein (Knightly's character) was a compelling figure -- first a patient of Jung's, then a student and lover of his, and later a psychologist in her own right. Finally, she leaves for Soviet Russia establishes her own practice there and (and according to the closing credits) gets executed along with her two daughters _by the Nazis_ (she was Jewish) outside of Stalingrad. AND ALL THIS GETS PRESENTED IN 1 1/2 hours???? Dio mio, there have been plays and movies which were truly "Much ado about nothing" that went on for hours and this film which had content that writers and film-makers would normally die/kill for ... was over before one blinked. Arrgh! ;-)

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