A DANGEROUS METHOD is an exquisitely pointless film. It also features Keira Knightlys most off-putting performance to date, one that may go down as one of the most off-putting of all time, in any film, by any actor. The complicated relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) should be the perfect fodder for director David Cronenberg, but, as it turns out, when his usual subtext of psychosexual neuroses becomes the super-text, Cronenberg is left without a channel for his immense creativity. The terrors of the subconscious lose all their danger when nothing is left to the viewers imagination, including sado-masochism and explicit language. It is the difference between the nudity, tantalizing and full of promise and a hint of danger in a candlelit boudoir, and the nakedness of a clinical setting under unflattering lights.
Based on the play by screenwriter Christopher Hampton, which was in turn based on the book, A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr, this adaptation doesnt so much open up the play as close it down in an emotional straight-jacket. The catalyst, Jungs rejection of monogamy with a troubled patient turned medical student, Sabina Spielrein (Knightly), comes across less as giving into his libido when tempted by a passionate woman, than making a calculated if stupid move in the cause of understanding the new field of psychoanalysis. That Fassbinder is as blank as the reflection in his wire-rimmed spectacles does not help. Neither does Knightlys habit of biting the air every time she speaks. As portrayed by Knightly, this troubled soul is the last person anyone should be encouraging to pursue a medical degree, particularly with the aim of becoming a psychoanalyst herself. Despite her cure, or as close as Jung and later Freud are able to get her to a cure, Knightly creates a creature of barbed wire and ferocious neediness. As for Freud, he and Jung trade aphorisms and famous quotes without any of the visible bonding that is so crucial to the dramatic arc and ultimate tragedy of their story. In truth, Mortensen has a far more intimate and palpably emotional relationship with Freuds omnipresent cigar than he does with Fassbinders Jung.
The particulars of their warring philosophies: outcomes for patients, Jungs fascination with the mystical, et als are brought up in passing and with a distinct ennui. The boldest thing in the film is Vincent Cassel as a drug-addicted patient/colleague of the two doctors. He blazes across the screen with a mischievous glee, challenging Jungs conventions, cadging treasures from Jungs desk and externalizing his libidinous instincts with a member of Jungs staff. The film rouses itself from its torpor with his appearance and falls back into it as he scampers over a wall and out of the story, leaving the audience wishing that it could go with him.