Ringers, The Fly, The Dead Zone, Videodrome)
tabling the disturbing freak-o-rama imagery that
helped build him a cult following, instead taking a very civilized, mostly
low-key approach as he tells the fact-based story of therapist Carl Jung
(Michael Fassbender) and patient turned colleague
turned mistress Sabrina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). The other primary story follows the wary
friendship between Jung and Freud (Viggo Mortensen).
The film begins in Zurich in 1904, as Speilrein
is brought to Jung's clinic for treatment. The young woman suffers from an
anxiety disorder, hysteria and Lord knows what else. No one will accuse Knightley of
playing it safe during the segment. She jerks about wild-eyed, screaming,
sobbing and laughing, flailing about as she tries to escape her keepers. She
appears to have muscle spasms, and she frequently juts out her lower jaw while
growling and generally acting feral. In short, she looks like someone
desperately trying to turn into a werewolf.
Spielrein soon meets Jung, and
let's pause to talk about the actor for a moment. 2011 was a banner year for
Michael Fassbender, as the grim Magneto in X-Men: First Class
First Class, an even grimmer sex addict in Shame and for his work
here. In the first two films, Fassbender is
clean-shaven and appears handsome, but severe and intimidating. In A
Dangerous Method, he sports a mustache which - this is so bizarre - makes
him resemble Bob Saget.
How disconcerting it is to watch discussions about the
intricacies of the human mind between the co-star of Full House and a
wannabe Werewolf of London. The evolving relationship between Jung and Spielrein is consistently interesting; Spielrein,
an aspiring doctor herself, proves a worthy peer to Jung, though her eyes still
get buggy when she feels threatened. The only tepid aspect of the relationship
comes when it turns sexual: The pair get a little
S&M thing going that seems more mechanical than erotic, at least on Jung's
side of the bedroom.
The relationship between Jung and Freud is engaging, if more
predictable. Jung greatly admires Freud and enjoys becoming friends with such a
major figure, but finds Freud's incessant sexual interpretations constricting.
Freud, played by Mortensen with just the right amount of authority and
self-satisfaction, appreciates Jung, but finds his interest in pursuing ESP and
other supernatural subjects disturbing and potentially damaging to their
Eventually both storylines meet, as is no surprise when a
respected doctor has a mistress in the same field and an aristocratic wife
(Sarah Gadon) who becomes aware of the extramarital
hijinks. A third storyline involves a mentally ill colleague of Freud's,
psychiatrist Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), who stirs the pot with his disdain
for social oppression.
A Dangerous Method is talky, which is to be expected
for a film based in part on a stage play, but most of it works. Intellectually
and emotionally stimulating, it doesn't boil, it simmers. Except
for the part where Spielrein goes bat-ass crazy, of