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‘A Dangerous Method’: Freudian Slip?

November 30, 2011

Paging Dr. Freud! Perhaps the father of psychoanalysis could explain the hidden meaning of A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg’s baffling exercise in cinematic cognitive dissonance, but I certainly can’t. Only Viggo Mortensen, who vanishes into his role as the great Sigmund, seems to be on the same wavelength as the filmmaker, with whom he previously collaborated on the vastly superior Eastern Promises and A History of Violence. (He’s a dangerous Method actor.)

Michael Fassbender, on the other hand, gives a strangely neutered performance as Carl Jung, Freud’s disciple-turned-rival. Considering his irresistible work as the proto-Magneto in X Men: First Class—and his emotionally and physically revealing turn as a sex addict in Shame—it’s hard to believe this is even the same actor. Of course, he gets no help from the script, by Dangerous Liaisons‘ Christopher Hampton, which reads like a Psych 101 textbook with a few random pages from Penthouse Forum stuck in the middle.

That’s where Keira Knightley comes in, as a patient who becomes an assistant/S&M partner to Jung and eventually a prominent researcher in the field. As Freud and Jung butt eggheads for her attention and affection, A Dangerous Method reduces their philosophical dispute into a contest to see who has the biggest… er, cigar.

Ultimately, it’s the Pirates of the Caribbean veteran’s casting that sinks the film. Cronenberg gives Knightley free rein with the character, and she manages to hang herself with it. From her Boris Badenov accent to her cringe-inducing facial tics, Knightley can only be described as hysterical—in the worst sense of the word.

In the Cronenberg canon, A Dangerous Method falls closer to the shockingly dull Crash than the deliciously twisted Dead Ringers. Freud and Jung would seem like fertile ground for a director so famously obsessed with the intersection of sex and violence. But instead of shedding light on the roots of psychotherapy, this arid dud only serves as a “talking cure” for insomnia.

Did A Dangerous Method make you feel Jung at heart? I’m afraid our time is up for today, but please feel free to post a comment!

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