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A Dangerous Method (2011)

by on 2012/08/30

“There must be more than one hinge into the universe.”

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Early on in A Dangerous Method, I thought of Leo Buscaglia. The late instructor, author, and speaker once suggested a principal issue for the elderly was less being “old” than feeling — or being made to feel — useless.

It occurred to me an important turning point in the relationship between Carl Jung (300’s Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (King Arthur’s Keira Knightley) was when he decided to ask his patient to help him with his work. From then on, their dynamic shifted. She could nearly heal herself in feeling useful.

A dramatized version of the triangle connecting Jung, Spielrein, and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen of A History of Violence), a romantic historical fiction hardly seems the stuff of David Cronenberg. Yet here he is, acquitting himself in top form.

Skipping back and forth from Switzerland to Austria — with a brief sojourn to New York — the narrative begins at 1904, and skips ahead through time. Sometimes we get dramatics, sometimes recited letters . . . tantalizing glimpses, though never confusing for their brevity.

I expected a more conventional affair: two men fighting over one woman. Instead, Jung proved to be the one in the middle. He’s tugged in various ways. Aside from subplots involving his wife (Sarah Gadon of Cosmopolis) and another unusual patient (Vincent Cassel of Eastern Promises), his major conflicts involved doctor/patient propriety, and challenging his mentor’s teachings. As that middleman, he struggles between the poles of wearing one’s flaws openly or arrogantly repressing them.

I later learned the movie was based on a stage play (The Talking Cure). Little surprise. It’s a period piece, but one clearly driven by characters. The requisite locations and props are in place — especially the subtly significant makeup on Mortensen — and still the experience remains more substantial than decorative.

Perhaps too much so at times. I was glad when Spielrein’s character was essentially “cured” of her mania, for I tired quickly of Knightley’s gulping and gagging.

I also found the rear projection in the New York scene distracting, the only time I noticed visual effects.

Otherwise, as with Spider, I was astonished by it all. A Dangerous Method is an awesome culmination of art and craft. It combines history, biography, and provocative ideas, avoiding the pitfall of dry academic theory. Sensationalist? Not quite. Entertaining? Decidedly.

To end on a waggish note, it’s a Merchant Ivory take on Hitchcock’s Marnie.

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Rated 14A

99 minutes

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