A DANGEROUS METHOD (David Cronenberg, 2011)

The ridiculously titled A Dangerous Method is perhaps Canada’s David Cronenberg’s most infuriating film. It more or less tries to dim the spotlight that two other films nearly a decade earlier cast on Sabina Spielrein, the Russian Jewish Freudian psychoanalyst and pioneering child psychologist whom the Nazis murdered, along with her two young children. While I wouldn’t recommend Roberto Faenza’s The Soul Keeper (2002) to anyone, both it and Elisabeth Márton’s brilliant documentary My Name Was Sabina Spielrein (2002) reclaim Spielrein from the obscurity to which male chauvinism had hoped to consign her. Carl Jung, who had begun as her analyst and became her lover, ransacked their intellectual intimacy by plagiarizing Spielrein’s ideas. Based on John Kerr’s book A Most Dangerous Method and Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure, with Hampton writing the script, Cronenberg’s film subordinates this extraordinary woman to the relationship between Jung and mentor Sigmund Freud, against whom Jung eventually, and viciously, turned. One would never guess from this by-default anti-feminist film that Spielrein was herself important, not someone who merely claimed professional acquaintanceship with both titanic men.
     Moreover, Viggo Mortensen’s studied, exaggerated Freud is not to be believed. This may be the worst performance that Cronenberg has directed.
     The film, however, is not without merit. The (ironically, Freudian!) conflict between Freud and Jung is interesting enough, and the emphasis on the role that anti-Semitism played in the reception that psychoanalysis drew in Europe gains importance from its current revival there. Michael Fassbender (best actor, London critics, Los Angeles critics) provides a monotonous whitewash of the despicable Jung, but briefly comes to vivid life in a scene of emotional breakdown. Keira Knightley, on the other hand, is both fierce and restrained, and despite Spielrein’s raging masochism retains admirable dignity, as Sabina.

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