I really enjoyed this film. Having been recently ruminating once more on the sociological pathology of Honour Killings and the necessity to control the chastity of young females in most patriarchical societies, this film made me wonder whether it was indeed the birth of the Austrian-‘Jewish’ school of psychoanalysis which led to the advent of the liberation of female sexuality in Western society. This may be obvious to some, but I find the potential of this quite intriguing. Especially in light of my introduction to Otto Gross from this movie. He actually deserves a separate post on his own (soon). I think psychoanalysis may be owed a great debt by the Western Society generally, a society which today is quite distinct from its Victorian Era incarnation, having had so many taboos and inter-related psychic truths brought out of closets into the public to be acknowledged and dealt with. The writing in this film is quite erudite, making one almost want to take notes at times. Such as the questioning of WHY humans, while such sexual animals, have this overwhelming need to repress this sexuality at the same time. This of course, is what the foundation of psychoanalysis was all about–the search for an understanding of this unfortunate duality…which inevitably leads to emotional baggage in a great number of humanoids. This film is recommended for neurotic uber-ruminators. Perhaps as a elementary introduction to the history of psychoanalysis. Also do read The Interpretation of Murder.
Keira Knightley in ‘A Dangerous Method’ — Oscar-Worthy or Laughable?
Meanwhile, the Guardian’s reviewer disliked the film overall, but wrote, “Knightley provides the Oscar bait.” Likewise, Britain’s Telegraph says Cronenberg “has coaxed a performance from Knightley so ferocious in these early scenes that it seems likely to become the film’s main talking point. It’s also a risky strategy, as Sabina’s behavior is extreme to the point of being alienating.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy agrees that Knightley starts off at a high pitch, but praises her “excellent work as a character with a very long emotional arc” and that by film’s end, “the performance modulates into something fully felt and genuinely impressive.”
Movieline sums up Knightley’s hysterics: “It’s a lot of acting – maybe not good acting – but it sure gets the point across” and adds as her character gets better under psychoanalysis, “Knightley gets better scene by scene.”
‘A Dangerous Method’ review: Freud versus Jung
Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic
Friday, December 16, 2011
Drama. Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen. Directed by David Cronenberg. (R. 99 minutes. At Bay Area theaters.)
The dangerous method in “A Dangerous Method” is the talking cure, psychoanalysis as practiced by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung at the turn of the 20th century. Over the course of a decade, the movie follows the difficult case that brought these pioneers together – and that later helped precipitate their famous split.
As this is a David Cronenberg film, it’s probably intentional that the three principals, Jung, Freud and the patient, seem borderline insane. Freud (Viggo Mortensen) is obsessed with sex. Jung (Michael Fassbender) has an extramarital affair with a defenseless patient. (His rich wife buys him a sailboat … and so he takes his mistress on the boat for trysts.) And what can we say for Keira Knightley, who begins the movie spastic and screaming and then soon announces her plans to become a psychiatrist? She can give her patients crazy lessons.
Because of the issues under discussion and the historical characters, not to mention the customary concision with which Cronenberg handles the material, “A Dangerous Method” maintains considerable interest, despite mixed performances. Mortensen is persuasive as Freud, portraying him as a self-controlled voyeur, a brilliant cult leader looking for sycophants, and such a cigar smoker – he’s never without one – as to make you think that sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar. To place in the role someone as cool and self-assured as Mortensen allows the audience to feel the power Freud exerts and the tension he would cause within Jung as the disciple starts to pull away from the master.
As Jung, Fassbender, whose career has come a long way this year, is an engaging presence. But I’m finding something consistently helpless in Fassbender’s work, even when he plays supposedly decisive men. There’s a passivity, a watchfulness and an implied apology for breathing about Fassbender that I don’t find in similarly self-contained and observant actors, such as Peter Sarsgaard.
It’s certainly the wrong note for Jung, because it turns an active character into a plaintive and contemptible one – breaking with Freud and having an affair as though he were forced against his will to do both, when he should be a man in the grip of passion, be it for his ideas or for a woman.
Yet it might very well be that the thing making Fassbender’s passion seem inadequate is the same thing dragging down the film – Keira Knightley. Only late in the movie did it even dawn on me what was intended by her role, that Sabina, despite her mental difficulties, should be an exceptionally appealing young Jewish woman, capable of inspiring a man to betray his wife and his professional ethics in one swoop. If this were Natalie Portman, we would have gotten all that within seconds.
Instead we get Knightley, who juts her chin, quakes, shakes and bugs her eyes, but nothing about her pain calls out to us, because nothing in it seems real. Indeed, when at one point Jung spanks his patient, you may completely miss the erotic content and simply think what I thought – that somebody, finally, was punishing Knightley for this performance.