The Reel Deal
A DANGEROUS METHOD
A Reel Deal Film Review
Film Insight by Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 3 out of 5
“THE STRAIGHT-FORWARD METHOD OF A DANGEROUS METHOD”
There’s nothing even remotely dangerous in the production of A Dangerous Method. It’s safe, and sterile, and still. There is none of what makes Cronenberg such a great filmmaker in this soporifically straight-forward, generic Hollywood-style biopic about the fathers of psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The man that J. Hoberman once called “the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world” has made a film not the least bit audacious or challenging.
To argue that Cronenberg isn’t allowed to make an un-Cronenbergian film isn’t an argument I’d like to make. Directors are obviously free to move in whatever direction they want, and I often like when they go outside their usual comfort zone and do something radically different from what is expected of them. But the crossing of Freud and Jung and Cronenberg just seemed so ripe for surprises and shocks and surreal flourishes, but no, here psychoanalysis is played straight. The only surprise was that there wasn’t one. Cronenberg made a film that could have been directed by any random semi-talented run-of-the-mill-filmmaker. It’s direction-by-numbers.
While Michael Fassbender (as Carl Jung) and Viggo Mortenson (as Sigmund Freud) do their best with the material, Kiera Knightley’s performance (as Jung patient/lover turned psychoanalyst herself) is a classic case of overacting. I personally think Cronenberg is as much to blame for that as she is–overacting this egregious should have been noticed and corrected by its director. Has Cronenberg just grown complacent? Is he even trying anymore? Was this straight-forward, classic Hollywood rendition of the story a ploy for an Oscar? Or has he just given up and become lazy? I sure hope he hasn’t given up, because Cronenberg is one of a handful of great auteurs that has consistently made interesting pictures over the last few decades.
A Dangerous Method on the whole just feels a bit off-kilter, but is that because it is so lifelessly on-kilter? The engrossing subject matter, the thematic undercurrent and the yucks (sometimes intended, sometimes not) make this an enjoyable enough picture, but it’s missing the edge that the material warrants and that Cronenberg usually brings in droves. Vincent Cassal’s turn as Otto Gross is the film’s saving grace and, I felt, it’s thematic core. Here was a man who took Freud and Jung’s ideas to their logical conclusions, while also manipulating his patients for his own personal gain. In Otto Gross, we see the problems of psychoanalysis–the dangers of this method–namely that it becomes a struggle for power. Whoever has the power of interpretation and analysis in any given relationship has the ultimate hegemony in that situation. This later comes to fruition with the inevitable clash between Freud and Jung. It’s interesting stuff, I’m just surprised where Cronenberg went with it–or rather where he didn’t go with it, which is to say: anywhere.
A Dangerous Method is a film directed by David Cronenberg and written by Christopher Hampton, based on both Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure and John Kerr’s book A Most Dangerous Method. It stars Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Vincent Cassel. A look at how the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud gives birth to psychoanalysis.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Design by Jillian Mercado
Press Photo from A Dangerous Method, Photography Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics