In the latest from David Cronenberg, we witness the birth of psychoanalysis – yes, talk talk talk. Filmed in Vienna, Zurich and Berlin, A Dangerous Method chronicles the infamous dispute between its founders, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and the rise of Sabina Spielrein from hysteria patient, to psychoanalytic theroist. Though it appears thoroughly subdued by comparison to his previous, explicit work, it has the same psychology of all of its creator’s early genre/sci-fi films and maintains the structure of his two recent collaborations with actor Viggo Mortensen .
In the strictly patriarchal beginnings of the 20th century, extremes of female suppression caused the very corporeal condition of hysteria, and the “talking cure” experiment was being pioneered as a possible treatment. Here, Kiera Knightly convincingly and contortingly portrays an hysteric teenager whose memories of humiliation arouse and disgust her to breaking point. Michael Fassbender’s performance is that of a deeply repressed and troubled Jung, whose devotion to a talking cure is interrupted by his desire for a sexual one, and no one could appear to be wound tighter.
A Dangerous Method does not appear to have a central plot. Our gaze is shifted between several character conflicts without resolution, and only appears to touch on Jung’s anti-Semitism or classism or mysticism or romanticism, pushed to the surface briefly, and left for audiences to reconcile. It is a film that would certainly require repeat viewing for an enriched experience, and a knowledge of Freud and Jung is helpful, as there’s so much more to gain from this than what is merely being said.
Some Cronenberg fans will repudiate it for the lack of graphic violence. There are no close-ups of inside-out orang-utans, no one gets shot in face, or has their scars made love to. The film is however a quintessential Cronenberg work.
Freud has influenced Cronenberg’s films magnificently, but we are shown here, how the concepts of this influence were conceived and how they likewise reflect the cinematic experiments of art and mortality through sex and violence – the director’s life’s work. Cronenberg’s protagonists are often doomed to become the objects of their own experiments, committing horrible acts in order to combat death, giving in to basic animal desires while attempting to achieve the scientifically remarkable, and in that expression, this is no different. Just as in many of his earlier, violent films we observe a demonstration of an experimental idea – but, again, no heads explode.
A Dangerous Method will be theatrically in Australia on 29 March through Transmission Films.