Movie Review: A Dangerous Method ***

March 29, 2012 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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Reduced to its essence, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method is little more than an historical romantic tragedy…writes James Berardinelli.

Since the film’s three principals were pioneers in the field of psychotherapy, it goes without saying there’s a lot of dialogue about the ego, the mind, the connection between sex and death, and so forth – potentially enough to overload someone not in the profession. (I found myself straining to remember the relevant chapters from my Psych 101 text book.) Ultimately, however, A Dangerous Method is less about the formative years of psychotherapy and two of its progenitors than it is about a rule-breaking extramarital affair.

The movie covers the span of roughly a decade, beginning around 1904 and concluding just before the outbreak of World War I. The primary focus is the relationship that develops between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his patient, Sabina Spielrein (Kiera Knightly). When Jung first encounters Sabina, she is a wreck – in the grip of a severe anxiety disorder and barely functional. As Jung employs an experimental “talking cure” on her, it is revealed that any form of physical punishment or humiliation triggers excessive sexual desire. Her sessions with Jung enable her to cope with her needs and overcome the guilt that accompanies them. After leaving his care, she elects to become a psychiatrist and, while in his capacity as her dissertation adviser, he initiates a sexual relationship with her. In the meantime, Jung has begun a friendship with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and quickly rises to the position of Freud’s “#1 disciple.” Jung’s career and professional standing are threatened, however, by the proverbial “woman scorned.” After breaking off his affair with Sabina, he learns she is unwilling to calmly “just be friends.”

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