Do not expect a body horror show from A Dangerous Method. Do not expect someone grotesque mental or physical transformation. Do not expect kinky or unbelievably outlandish sex scenes. Most of all, do not pigeonhole director David Cronenberg. Whatever a “David Cronenberg film” means is a mystery now. Who would’ve thought the director behind Videodrome and (the very underrated) eXistenZ would go on to make an excellent gangster picture? Certainly not me.
Now Cronenberg has tackled a subject that is, in some ways, in his wheelhouse. A Dangerous Method is not a dry or sloggy bio pic, but an entertaining depiction about the clashing of ideals and an exploration of how we tick, as expected. Much of the film focuses on the rise and fall of a rocky relationship between a young and intellectually hungry Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and the older, wiser and sex obsessed Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson).
Most the script involves Jung and Freud in back and forth conversations about their ideas, which will surely turnoff many viewers. If you are not at all into psychoanalysis and were bored to tears during your sociology 101 class, then this is not a film for you. At one point Freud jokes to Jung, forgive me if I am misquoting the line, “Have you realized we’ve spoken for eight hours now?”, and some may feel those eight hours. For myself, the exchanges between a convincingly conflicted Fassbender and a surprisingly hilarious Mortenson, are funny, intellectually stimulating, and, yes, cinematic.
Having actors like Mortenson, Fassbender, a suitably over-the-top Keira Knightley, and Vincent Cassel as a devilish psychoanalyst, the charming and impulsive Otto Gross, all discussing sex, human repression, and more is woefully entertaining. When A Dangerous Method aspires to be a comical and a compelling take on the odd relationships between psychoanalysts and their patients, the film is at its best.
Where the film crumbles, most disappointingly, is in its third act. Much of the film has a basic period piece structure – with minutes representing years, etc. – and towards the end it becomes tiresome. The drama between Jung and a former and hysterical Russian patient of his, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), isn’t half as effective as the earlier, long-winded discussions between Jung and Freud. The structure doesn’t do the two fine actors’ shaky sexual relationship justice, and it becomes second-tier to Jung and Freud’s story.
As a period piece, some may find the film “stuffy” considering the film mostly takes place in rooms, but the first two acts are not at all visually suffocating or fit the run-of-the-mil period piece bill. If the film had more time, A Dangerous Method could have been another great Cronenberg film. Fortunately enough, there is still plenty to chew on and laugh with before the third act problems arise.
The Upside: Strong performances across the board; the first two acts; Cronenberg doesn’t solely let the heavy dialog inform you, but also his controlled direction; Vincent Cassel proves he’s got it in him to be a terrific character actor.
The Downside: Becomes episodic come the third act; the third act’s drama isn’t as powerful as it should be; the third act.
On The Side: The film features Cronenberg’s most boring sex scenes yet, and that’s kind of the point.