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  • Writer's pictureSteve

A Dangerous Method (2011)

I jokingly tweeted before watching that A Dangerous Method was basically 'spanking with silly hats'. Sometimes, I have rather the aloof talent of prediction. Michael Fassbender (Jung), Keira Knightley (Spielrein) and Viggo Mortensen (Freud) star in this story of the birth of psychoanalysis. We are, admittedly, treated to some lovely cinematography, beautiful locales and enchanting and detailed backdrops, adorning the very real attempt to make Cronenberg's effort credible.

Unfortunately for Cronenberg, the authenticity that he displays uncovers one of the films' greatest flaws. It is a truism that hindsight is a wonderful thing and devoting an hour and a half to sexual 'deviancy' taking place over a hundred years ago, but viewed by a modern, developed and no doubt liberated audience over one hundred years later isn't really going to have the same amount of lasting clout. In short, this is pretty dull and, for those that are most likely to go and see it, a little bit simple and glaringly obvious.

Whether it is her portrayal by Knightley or what Cronenberg has asked for is unclear, but I found Spielrein to be the most inconsistent character of all. Apparently smart enough to pursue a career in the medical profession, yet not astute enough to recognise her own sexual shortcomings (if indeed such a thing exists) and just how little, in the grand scheme of her life as a whole, they really mattered. We are supposed to believe that this woman has the same ability to elucidate, to extol and verbalise her mental foibles (or the foibles of others) as the men who discuss her own case behind her back, when she is by turns manic, cloyingly needy, often helpless, destructive and filled with humiliation and self-contempt. She does not handle these traits well. Not well enough at least, it seems, to be convincing. Much like the Russian accent she is sporting. Even after more than decade in the telling of her story, Knightley remains unconvincing, or Cronenberg is looking at Spielrein lop-sided.

Fassbender's Jung is a charmless philanderer , weak-willed and gratingly spurious and he displays an unusual knack for an ugly complicit streak here, which is a talent we rarely see in him on screen. He hovers delightfully on the jagged edge of professional suicide and predictable male wonder lust, which beggars belief given the reward for his romantic pursuits. Fassbender's grip on Jung may not be as many would like to imagine, but it certainly is one both credible and believable way of looking at the man.

Mortensen is underused, which is surprising given his record with Cronenberg. Even when on screen, his Freud is more stately and more sage, than history and notoriety may give him credit for. His performance, however, is assured, confident and well rounded. I would have liked to have seen more of him here, even if the script, particularly in the more verbalised portions of the film that occur in darkened offices opposite Jung, doesn't so much stroll, as slouches like a recently spent lothario after an especially volatile dose of absinthe.

In all, the film never feels laboured. On the contrary, it struggles to get going, failing to giddy up its audience. The conversations between Jung and Freud are not the epitome of two great minds at odds with one another nor working convincingly together. The script fails to inspire the actors and that seems to cost Knightley the most. Fassbender and Mortensen manage to get through by the skin of their teeth on acting chops alone. This is an odd choice for Cronenberg who, whilst he should be applauded for his efforts, should really get back to what he knows, feels comfortable with and does best.

Not so much a dangerous method, but I'll grant them, an occasionally interesting one.


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