It has been close to ten years since noted, typically avant-garde
filmmaker David Cronenberg has helmed a motion picture worthy of his name. He found more financial success than he had in a while with 2005's shallow "A History of Violence
" and 2007's absorbing "Eastern Promises
," but both projects lacked a distinct identity. They could have been made by anyone and no one would have suspected Cronenberg was responsible. With "A Dangerous Method," the director has lost yet another piece of himself and turned out another prestigious, undercooked dud. Not even a ballsy performance from Keira Knightley (2010's "Never Let Me Go
"), whose work wavers between brave and inappropriately over-the-top, is enough to give it much notoriety.
In Zurich, Switzerland, 1904, Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) welcomes a new patient to his clinic, a psychologically confused young Jewish woman named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) whose repression of her sexual urges have left her stilted within adulthood. Growing up, she was attracted to her father and older brothers, her mind full of thoughts involving humiliation and fetishes. As psychoanalysis is gradually born out of Jung's treatment and his respective meetings in Vienna with opinionated father figure Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Sabina rehabilitates while indulging in a lurid affair with her married doctor. As she improves, she looks toward becoming a psychiatrist herself. In doing so, however, she must say good-bye to the man responsible for saving her. It's the only way she'll truly be able to become her own person.
Based on the stage play "The Talking Cure" by Christopher Hampton (who also writes the screenplay) and the book "A Most Dangerous Method" by John Kerr, "A Dangerous Method" is pedantic, ineffectual, and dry in its soap-opera leanings. Half the film is dedicated to real-life psychologists Jung and Freud sitting around spouting off opinions as if they were reading from published medical journals, and the other half is saved for a love story between Jung and Spielrein that holds none of the eroticism and bittersweet gravitas
that it should. "My love for you is the most important thing in my life!" declares Sabina, who has unconvincingly gone from a drooling, stuttering mess not fit for society into a well-mannered, intelligent practicing doctor in what seems to be the snap of a finger. "A Dangerous Method" is handsome in its period setting, but director David Cronenberg has done nothing to vividly bring this story to life. He sets his actors adrift and hopes for the best. The best never comes.