PFF ’11: A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, UK/GER/CAN/CH/FRA)

The field of psychoanalysis has very apparently come a long way since its humble origins, mostly thanks to a few highly influential individuals that were bold enough to father some of its more highly discussed facets. You’d be hard-pressed to discuss the topic to any varying degree without hearing the names of the two individuals at the center of David Cronenberg’s latest effort, yet the film itself has a tendency to leave its audiences feeling cold if they don’t sport an initial fondness of the subject matter. Needless to say, A Dangerous Method is a polarizing effort from the widely favored auteur, but not entirely due to any one particular defining characteristic.

For the unacquainted, the film initially focuses on Swiss-born thinker Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) as his most recent patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), allows him to make ample progress in the field prior to an initial rendezvous with the equally famed Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Aside from the inherent likability of the characters themselves and some pretty magnificent, period-appropriate set pieces, those who aren’t immediately familiar with both Jung and Freud’s contributions will have a hard time grasping exactly what these individuals are discussing at less than frequent intervals. Such an attribute doesn’t work entirely to the film’s disadvantage however, seeing how these bouts of psychoanalytical jargon are often quite engaging thanks to the manner in which they’re (at least sometimes) presented.

As time passes indiscriminately along, the oft clumsily implemented romance subplot involving Jung and now former patient Spielrein, important as it becomes later on in the narrative, simply doesn’t mesh well the aforementioned disparate plot elements. Awkwardly juxtaposed as it may be, the film’s tone seems to shift naturally enough between instances of subtle, straightforward humor and far more pressing matters without once coming off as overly dramatic. Deft as this blend may be, A Dangerous Method doesn’t sport anything particularly characteristic of Cronenberg’s recognizable artistic style, which is a shame even though he handles the subject matter with enough finesse to potentially please his avid detractors.

Once again, Michael Fassbender makes a noteworthy addition to my festival experience, delivering a fairly apt portrayal of Mr. Jung in a way only an actor of his caliber would. Outstanding as Mortensen is as one Sigmund Freud, I can’t necessarily say the same for Knightley and her portrayal of Jung’s former patient and supposed mistress Sabina Spielrein, one of the first female psychoanalysts and apparent saboteur of the once infallible relationship between two of the field’s greatest minds. Facts aside, her performance is agreeably over the top and periodically grating as such, yet her efforts remain serviceable if overrated throughout her constant interaction with other members of the cast.

As a less than stellar bookend to my Philadelphia Film Festival-laden weekend, A Dangerous Method fits the description. While the relationship between the two revolutionary thinkers is intriguing and mildly engaging as such, the film can’t strike a competent balance between the advances these individuals strove to make in the field of psychoanalysis and the supposed romantic involvement between Jung and Spielrein. Imbalance aside, a trio of mostly memorable performances benchmark this otherwise mediocre biopic/period piece, and although the subject matter can prove to be a bit off-putting in conjunction with some awkward pacing, those interested in the field will undeniably find more to like about it than the uninitiated.

Rating: 4/10


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