Written by: Christopher Hampton
Starring: Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Vincent Cassel
Being at the forefront of any theoretical discovery comes with a level of ownership and pride, which only gets hardened if critics continually attempt to attack the findings. A battle of the minds occurs in A Dangerous Method, as we see how people have the ability to gain immense respect for each other and how it can easily shift. Verbose at times but always thrilling in its conversational aspects, this film utilizes its tremendous cast to deliver a deeply unnerving viewing experience.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) has his own practice seeing clients when a peculiar one arrives by the name of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). In his attempts to cure her, he utilizes a method made known by the famous Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). As Sabina and Carl learn more about each other, they loop in Freud, as they try to expand on his theoretical framework.
With names you would only hear about if you ever took a psychology course, A Dangerous Method proves to be one of those films I find trouble in recommending to others. The story certainly has its own level of excellence but knowing the backstory and relationship of these people certainly raised my level of enjoyment when watching it. Knowing what these individuals stood for makes these discussions all the more fascinating as the relationships evolve and dissolve based on the work and belief systems established.
At the center, we have Carl and Sabina, who initiate the story with a doctor-patient relationship, but then things get a bit complicated. Sabina has issues she must work through, which puts her in a vulnerable place to begin the film, but as the story progresses, we see the reality of this also serves as the complete unraveling of Carl. Calm and composed from the very beginning, his slow descent into something he never thought he would be confounded into such a rich exploration about the power of credibility in a personal and professional sense. Freud gets looped in on several occasions when Carl pays him a visit and they discuss their theories and practices. This relationship also presents a different vibe and it leaves the audence always sitting on some level of uneasiness.
Both believing in the same school of thought about sex being a driving force of decision-making and thought processes, where these two diverge in their theories says plenty about their characters. Their back and forth plays out effortlessly with this dense script, as it throws out inaccessible terminology, but the context clues allow for anyone to follow along with what they mean when discussing the psyche and what treatments will work. Their battle arises when it comes to Freud’s preservation and Jung’s willingness to expand. We see both sides of thinking, granting the opportunity for the audience to decide which side they want to join. Freud wants to protect his already under fire theories from any skepticism, while Jung wants to continue to stretch it out to find more possibilities in the approach with patients. While the battle of the minds undoubtedly becomes the main attraction of these two, the uneasiness of their relationship lies right under the surface any time they exchange words. From the socioeconomic disparity between them and identity issues, the unraveling of their relationship provides some excellent entertainment as well as a fascinating exploration of men of this stature during this era.
The main draw of this film undoubtedly was its cast and they certainly came to play. Keira Knightley flexed her period piece game once again, taking on the challenging role of Sabina. The beginning scenes, in particular, demonstrate a woman struggling and Knightley performs the necessary physical contortions to display the pain this character endures. Fassbender and Mortensen thrive in their roles as they chew up the scenery and dense dialogue to make these topics incredibly compelling. Pairing up these two as rivals and friends appeared to be a dream come true for me, as they’re both two of my favorite actors and both of them brought their finest into these stoic and talky roles.
Even with the density of the story, moments of levity find their way through to demonstrate the humanity of the characters. I mean, when you have a line where a character states Freud is so obsessed with sex because he does not receive any, you know you’re in for some clever fun. It pairs well because the comedy does not shift the tone when dropped into discussions. Everything remains a serious matter but having these characters take digs at each other provides a different level of entertainment.
A story of deception, honor, defense, and control, A Dangerous Method wraps everything up for a psych evaluation for the audience. We see the dueling sides for what should be the future of psychoanalytic work made famous by Freud and potentially expanding it with the ideas embedded by Jung. Truly a delectable sparring session for some of my favorite actors to play around with, this film sets them up well and delivers a truly compelling story made better if already having a foundational idea of their belief system.