David Cronenberg has worked hard to earn monikers like "the King of Venereal Horror" and "the Baron of Blood". With films like Scanners, Videodrome, The Brood, The Fly, Dead Ringers, Crash, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises under his belt, the man's penchant for body horror is clearly well established. Now, what was going to happen when this guy took on the story of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Sabina Spielrein and the birth of psychoanalysis? The very thought of it induced shivers, but as the trailer and other marketing material surfaced, it became apparent that perhaps, just this once, Cronenberg has calmed down. Is this the case, and did it work? Hit the jump to find out.
A Dangerous Method (recently available on DVD and BluRay) explores, as mentioned above, the turbulent professional relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) as they give birth to psychoanalysis with a little help from an alluring and disturbed patient called Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Is it Cronenbergian body horror? Not in the least. It is a crisp and intellectual historical drama fueled by terrific performances from the entire cast. Apart from a little bondage here and there, this film contains nothing to shock those viewers who have become so accustomed to David Cronenberg's devices. However, since the relationship between body and mind are prominent in all his films, it's not difficult to see why this particular story piqued Cronenberg's interest.
With a cast like Mortensen, Fassbender, Knightley and also Vincent Cassel (who plays the gloriously and carnally disturbed Otto Gross), it should come as no surprise that the performances were probably the highlight of the film. Top of the list has to be Keira Knightley who, despite what you may think of her, never shies away from a challenging performance. Here she not only pulls off a pitch perfect Russian accent, but somehow balances all Spielrein's facets - hysteria, intelligence, beauty and seductiveness - expertly. As for Viggo Mortensen, he again went all out in his preparation to play the renowned Dr Freud, including smoking cigars (Freud smoked 22 a day before they killed him), reading everything he could about the man and visiting his actual home. He even learned how to write in Freud's hand, not only in German, but in Gothic script too. The result? An uncanny likeness, and a wholly accurate rendition no doubt (I never knew Freud, so I wouldn't know for sure). Finally there's Michael Fassbender who, being my favourite actor right now, wowed me once more with his visceral and emotional turn as Dr Carl Jung, Freud's less pragmatic and rigid, but more human, colleague. Comparing the performances of Mortensen and Fassbender is much like comparing the men they performed, filtering all the way down to their preparation for the film: whereas Mortensen went to extremes on the prep work, Fassbender said he basically only read "The Idiots Guide to Carl Jung". As if that isn't enough, even the age gap between the characters (19 years) is identical to that between the actors.
David Cronenberg himself deserves as much praise as the cast - not only for extracting those performances, but for successfully tackling something so different, for his attention to detail, and for once again managing to distill a complex story stretching over a decade into just over 90 minutes. With his longest movie ever running only 116 minutes (Dead Ringers), Cronenberg really is the master of keeping to the point. The result is a brisk, efficient film which could easily have been a long and dreary affair.
Even though A Dangerous Method earned substantial critical praise, the response in general hasn't been exceptional. Perhaps expectations were all over the place due to the impressive cast and Cronenberg's repertoire, but the lukewarm response from audiences and critics eludes me. Yes, it was perhaps a little dry considering the subject matter, but Cronenberg set out to craft an accurate historical drama, and he did so with aplomb.
8 out of 10.