A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011)

Last evening, we ventured out into the world of real, first-run movie theaters in order to catch a few end-of-year things. First up was Corman’s World, a really delightful documentary on Roger Corman and his near-50 years of being an awesome guy. It’s mostly an opportunity for people like Jack Nicholson and Peter Bogdanovich to shoot the shit with stories about how ridiculous (and wonderful) working for Roger was. If you can catch it, definitely do; there’s probably going to be an amazing DVD release, if the list of people interviewed who didn’t end up in the film is to be believed.


And then, there’s A Dangerous Method. I had such high hopes: David Cronenberg! Michael Fassbender as Jung! Spanking! Unfortunately, I haven’t been as disappointed in a movie in a long time. It was…dull. The last thing I ever thought I’d call a Cronenberg movie was dull, but there you have it. Both of us here at BCMH were looking for something, any hook to get a good, interesting grip on the movie. There is nothing.

First off, the film’s chronology is not only vaguely confusing, but seems arbitrary: the movie begins with hysterical (but brilliant) Sabina Spielrein arriving at Jung’s Switzerland clinic. Jung decides to try out his fancy new “talking cure” on Sabina. It’s going really well! Sabina realizes she loves getting humiliated because her dad beat her as a child! And then…it’s two years later, and Sabina is in medical school and in love with Jung. The first few minutes is all we get to see of the talking cure, another one of my major faults with the movie. For as much clinical talk as there is in the film (and there is a lot), there’s no real explication of what Jungian analysis is. If a viewer comes into the movie not knowing much about Jung, they will certainly not come out knowing much more. Is Jung psychic? What is he talking about?

Then, there’s Kiera Knightley. I put her squarely in the category of “pretty actresses people think are really good for some unknown reason” (looking at you, Scarlett Johansson). Knightley is, frankly, pretty silly as Sabina. She lets her jaw do most of the acting; in the early scenes, when Sabina is freaking out, Knightley sputters and sticks out her jaw, and flails her limbs around, Thom Yorke-style. It’s almost embarassing to watch.

I wish I had caps of the scene in question, but you’ll have to look at these pictures I found on the internet and believe me. She is awful. Bless his little heart, Michael Fassbender tries to make this one interesting, and at times, he almost succeeds. He’s a great actor, and we can see it here, but in the end, it barely even matters.

Ultimately the problem is we don’t know why any of this matters: as far as the film goes, the split between Freud and Jung basically reaffirms that psychiatrists are the monks of a secular culture. Do they dare transgress the laws of the brotherhood? If you’re going to go that way, then you should go whole hog, because the most interesting thing is the results of this schism, none of which is mentioned in the film. It’s the sort of “Watch someone’s life from before they were interesting” you get when you read a biography that spends four chapters on someone’s childhood. The increasing slickness, the commercial lines of Cronenberg aren’t ironic any more. There’s nothing transgressive here, and that’s fine, but it’s not like there’s historical interest in Jung And Freud Go To America, Apparently, On A Stupid Boat. That’s my take, anyway. There’s just so little here that it’s hard to grab onto anything, which seems antithetical to the idea Cronenberg is trying to get across in the film (the catalyst of transgressing a boundary in ritual). I don’t even care if it’s historically accurate, if you’re gonna go that route you need to deliver on some other flavor, and there’s nothing there, really. Depressing! I could so totally go for a long boring film about Jung and even I didn’t like it! Two thumbs down on this one, for sure.

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