(Full Disclosure: I saw this movie in Austin, Texas on New Year’s Day, fighting a mighty hangover and trying to piece together the previous night which involved getting kicked off a hotel roof and a really detailed conversation about David Koresh’s motorcycle. Also, I turned 28. Enjoy.)
I’m not a Scientologist, but I still don’t trust therapists. I come from the “suck it up, your parents’ divorce wasn’t that bad–everybody’s parents are divorced” school of dealing with emotional trauma and the only problem I seem to have these days is the one that allows me to write for this site. “How do you feel about that?” a therapist might ask me. “I feel nothing,” I answer back.
Psychoanalysis is a relatively young discipline and the two giants who invented it, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, while they were wrong about almost everything, still cast a shadow over the quest for understanding the human mind. Freud believed, in the cliff’s notes version, that all ailments of the psyche could be reduced to the human fascination with sex and death, while Jung took an even wackier approach, positing a collective unconscious, populated by universal archetypes which will absolutely touch you in your swimsuit area. Both theories sound really sexy until you have to read them in a graduate seminar and realize that they make no goddamn sense.
“How is this about my father, again?”
Luckily, we have David Cronenberg around to tell us the story of Freud and Jung when they were friends, then enemies, then frienemies in what would make for a lot of really interesting face book status updates had either been men of the 21st century. A Dangerous Method tells the story of two great minds brought to blows over a woman–ain’t it always the way–and while it falls trippingly across the screen, it is still a (minor) thing to behold.
Viggo Mortensen (playing Freud and once again standing in for the clinical sensibilities of Cronenberg) plays the cigar-smoking intellect as a reserved, almost reptilian, human calculator, appraising every situation with a cool gaze and an appropriate sense of Edwardian smugness. Mortenson’s Freud is a man who always knows he’s right, and it would be infuriating if it weren’t for Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Jung as a fresh-faced lech who seems to justify his actions always in terms of his jaw line and the baby blues in his head. His mentor, the inimitable Freud, is not happy. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that it’s always nice to watch two very attractive people talking, even if what they’re talking about is now considered inane bullshit by most scholars.
The real Jung was also ugly on the outside.
Speaking of pretty, There is Keira Knightley, an unfairly (in my opinion) maligned actress who plays Sabina, the woman who both men take a scientific interest in, an interest which Jung translates into a full blown spankfest, displeasing Freud. Sabina is a character that could very easily cross over into Nell territory, but Knightley is self-possessed enough to keep that from happening. She’s written as an over-the-top (literally hysterical) woman who Knightley manages to turn into a flesh-and-blood human female. The Pirates movies aside, maybe we can all start treating her like a grownup actress who has the chops for this kind of difficult material.
The script is talky… really talky. And the direction is often flat (something that will disappoint Cronenberg fans). This betrays the movie’s origins as a (probably boring) play. What may have come alive on the stage here just looks micromanaged, framed in the ever useful (but uninteresting) medium shot. The film often lacks the energy of Cronenberg’s other efforts, even the more mainstream ones of late, containing just enough juice to make for a very interesting, very respectable period piece. Cronenberg’s stamp doesn’t seem to be on this at all–it could have been directed by the guy who made the regrettable/illiterate The Reader (Stephen Daldry, who is behind what I will no doubt eventually consider the worst movie of the twenty-teens: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and been pretty much the same movie.
Twee: The Book is now Twee: The Movie!
I was tempted many times to compare this movie to Cronenberg’s earlier film about a pyschologist’s unhealthy relationship with his patient, Rabid, which while more of a gut punch, and more interesting, is not something you can watch with your mom. Rabid had murderous midget babies, after all. For Cronenberg, a guy who has often plumbed the depths of science, or pseudo-science, for interesting, horrifying stories, A Dangerous Method isn’t all that dangerous.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Vincent Cassell arrives to liven things up a bit
Take a Drink: whenever Freud appears with cigar in hand (actually, make that every time he doesn’t)
Take a Drink: for all the white interior shots