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A Dangerous Method (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 99 minutes.

Not for children.

This is the story of 50-year-old Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his acolyte, 30-year-old Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) at the dawn of the 20th Century and how their relationship started with a "hysterical" female patient of Jung's, 20-year-old Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Into the mix is another patient, mid-30s psychiatrist Otto Gross (Vincent Cassell), described by Freud as an immoralist and drug addict, who attacks Jung's morality, causing a downward spiral. As one should expect, given that it's the story of the birth of psychoanalysis based on past sexual experiences, it's mostly talk with some sex and some nudity.

Director David Cronenberg developed the film from screenwriter Christopher Hampton's play, The Talking Cure. Watching this film takes a lot of concentration and thought because it's a history of the development of psychoanalysis and its sexual component. Unknown to many, the film shows that Sabina, who became an analyst herself, had a strong impact on the thinking of both Freud and Jung. Hampton based much of the story on Sabina's hospital records, personal journals and correspondence with both Jung and Freud. This movie gives her much more credit for a lot of the methods that have heretofore rested solely with Freud and Jung.

Knightley's over the top acting as a psychotically disturbed young woman at the beginning of the film is disturbing and uncomfortable to watch. In fact, it almost lost me. I'm glad I stuck with it, but it's hard to know if Sabina was really this sick or if Knightley just overacted. It's either overacting or an award-quality performance. But, of course, one of the points of the movie is that psychoanalysis can cure, or at least help, severely disturbed people.

The acting is worth the price of admission. Mortensen gives a remarkably pleasing performance as Freud, and Fassbender is a satisfying Jung. Cassell shows his range as the neurotic Gross, a big leap from his role as the French arch-criminal Jacques Mesrine (in 2008's Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1).

The ambience of the movie is exceptional. Although set in Vienna and Zurich, the film was shot in Cologne, Bodensee (Lake Constance) and Vienna itself. The locations are beautiful and the recreation of early 20th-Century Europe evocative. Many scenes were shot in Freud's actual house in which he lived from 1891-1938.

If you pay attention to all the talk, you can learn a lot and be entertained at the same time.

October 11, 2011