As a psychology major, I was psyched to see this movie (forgive the pun). I’ve heard the tale of Sigmund Freud’s and Carl Jung’s diverging theories a good many times over in various psychology classes. Occasionally I have thought it could have potential to be a good biopic movie. A Dangerous Method (2011) was finally released, and I was anxious to see it. When I finally got the chance, turns out it was quite different from what I was expecting.
Suffering from hysteria, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is hospitalized under the care of Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Jung has recently begun using the talking cure developed by Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) on some of his patients. Spielrein’s psychological problems are deeply rooted in her childhood and violent father. She is highly intelligent and hopes to become a doctor, and eventually a psychiatrist. Later, Jung receives Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) as a patient. Gross is a brilliant, promiscuous, and unstable psychoanalyst who prods Jung into the idea of an affair. The married Jung and Spielrein eventually become lovers. Meanwhile, Jung and Freud develop an almost father-son relationship. Freud sees the young Jung as a likely successor and standard-bearer of his theories. A deep rift develops between them when Jung begins to diverge from Freud’s belief that while psychoanalysis can reveal the cause of psychological problems, it cannot cure the patient.
Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud is not a casting decision I would have made. I see him better suited in action roles, like in Lord of the Rings or Hidalgo. I didn’t even think Mortensen looked the part of Freud. Once I saw A Dangerous Method my doubts were diminished. Mortensen really does look and sound the part. He’s even smoking a cigar in every scene. Only once in a while did he seem to lapse into dramatic low tone that was more on par with Aragorn than with Freud.
Impressive as Mortensen is, the real credit must be given to Keira Knightley. She grants us a mind-blowing performance that seems to have been influenced by real patients suffering from hysteria. We see psychological fragility coupled with an intellectual toughness, which makes for an interesting character. She’s laughing like a madwoman one moment and frantically crying the next, and contorting her body in defensive positions. Then we see her slowing growing out of that state and into a calm and collected woman as her healing progresses. She played the mental condition so well, it’s disquieting to watch.
The way the story here is presented is not what I was expecting to see. It’s a very dialogue driven story. The dialogue is great and interesting, and you get a feel for Freud’s and Jung’s theories and views. But it’s almost as though most of the actual story was happening between scenes and we are mostly witnessing the characters discussing among themselves the real meat of the story after it happened. The movie does a lot more telling than showing. Granted the story is about the characters and how events affected them, but I would have liked to see more of the events themselves to understand why the characters are affected they way that they are.
There are two really great parts of the movie that are exceptions. The first part of the movie shows us Jung using Freud’s talking cure to help Spielrein. It’s still dialogue driven, but it was fascinating to see Freud’s theory at work. As a psychology major, it was almost like getting to witness the early psychoanalytic process as it was in the early 1900’s. Later we get to see Jung and Freud talking about their views. Freud is advocating the scientific method while Jung is discussing abstract supernatural concepts, and the tension mounts as their views conflict. Here we really see events happening; most other scenes simply talk about events happening.
Freud’s theories revolved a lot around the idea of sexual repression as the source of neurosis. As such, sex is discussed frequently in A Dangerous Method, though generally in an academic sense. There are also several brief sex scenes; you can’t seem make a movie about marital infidelity without them. The sexual content isn’t there to get a reaction from the audience; it really is pertinent to the story. But if you are offended by sexual imagery, discussion, or even partial nudity you may want steer clear of this film. Also because of this content, I wouldn’t recommend showing A Dangerous Method to young viewers.
A Dangerous Method isn’t what I was expecting from a Freud/Jung biopic, but it’s still a good drama. Even the details in costuming, lighting, and cinematography are impressive. If you don’t care for dialogue driven stories you may get bored with it. It would help to know something about psychoanalysis, or at least have an interest in learning, before seeing this movie. It’s a good movie that I think will appeal to only a small group of people, so I don’t recommend buying a copy or seeing it unless you are in that group.
What’s a dramatic movie about psychological problems that you thought was impressive? Comment below and tell me why!