The early years of the twentieth century in Austria and Switzerland are the theatre for this untypical, restrained drama from David Cronenberg, working from Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of his play about the friendship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and the role in their lives of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley, pictured), a mental patient-turned-psychoanalyst. The theatrical origins of ‘A Dangerous Method’ are evident in the script’s series of conversations, interrupted by walks outdoors and a spot of spanking à deux. The Cronenbergian blood might be limited to a close-up of Spielrein’s underwear after Jung takes her virginity, but if we’re wondering where ‘A Dangerous Method’ fits in the director’s career, maybe we could see this as a late-career primer for newcomers to the Canadian’s heady and subversive filmography?
There’s a hint of Magritte in the film’s colours and how Jung and Freud’s smart clothes and the film’s near-prissy production design are mere fronts to the discussion of stormy ideas. There are flashes of humour, such as when Cronenberg cuts from a chat between Jung and Freud to a table of kids, but mostly the look and feel of ‘A Dangerous Method’ is conservative and talky. This feels appropriate, if limited, but more problematic is the loss of focus on ideas later on as the script takes more of an interest in Jung and Spielrein’s affair. The most compelling scenes are those between Mortensen and Fassbender, while Knightley gives a fair performance but lumbers herself with a distracting accent, and her gurning in the early scenes may be too much for some to bear.