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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.07.11] Canada review drama

Year: 2011
Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: Christopher Hampton, John Kerr
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 8 out of 10

On the surface, it seems that David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method is unlike anything the director has done before. A period drama about the early relationship of the fathers of psychoanalysis, it tracks Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and the little discussed woman who impacted not only their relationship but also their mythologies but on closer examination, it's clear that Cronenberg is still working well within his passion of exploration of humanity's darker tendencies albeit here they're explored in much more dramatic than horrific ways.

We first meet Sabina, a Russian woman of excellent pedigree, as she is admitted into the institution at which Jung works. She seems crazed and scared but of what we don't yet know. Jung sees an opportunity to test the newly developed talking cure with the troubled woman. The treatment seems successful but along the way, Jung becomes convinced that Freud's obsession with tying everything back to sexuality is too narrow a reading of ailments. This becomes one of the long running arguments between Freud and Jung and as the two develop a working relationship and even friendship, it seems clear that the pair are far apart on various other issues at the centre of psychoanalysis.

Though it's being toted as a look at the relationship between Jung and Freud, A Dangerous Method is really the story of how a woman came to change not only the two men but also psychoanalysis. More accurately, it's the story of how Sabina came to change Jung and how the changes she imparted in him affected his relationship with Freud.

The film's major fault is that the story stays too close to the surface, spanning years in the relationships of the three individuals but not spending enough time with any of them to develop them deeply. The one exception is Jung whose life is clearly and sharply changed by his dealing with the Russian woman yet for a man who spends his days examining and dissecting the meaning behind what people say, we don't get much of a chance to explore how the events and people in his life affect him beyond beyond the sruface and though a deep depression comes over him after he parts ways with Freud, even this is only mentioned in passing.

It seems a missed opportunity that the story sticks so closely to the relationship between Jung and Freud because though interesting in its own right, it's one that has been explored in the past and which is clear, from early on, will be a rocky one. Much more interesting is the story of Sabina, a largely unknown character who is not only deeply troubled but also incredibly brilliant. Her struggles with sexuality and abuse are fascinating and though the film focuses on them early on, they're soon abandoned when the story jumps a few years ahead after the completion of her treatment.

Though it meanders a little through the tale, Cronenberg's film still presents a fascinating look at the relationship of two larger-than-life individuals. The performances, even from the passing Vincent Cassel who is merely a blip in the story, are excellent but Keira Knightley's is worthy of particular mention. The actress is often criticized for her lack of emotion, a comment I have never agreed with, but here she is clearly a standout among some exceptional talents. Her slight Russian accent isn't overbearing and feels natural but it's her physical performance, her facial and physical contortions, some more subtle than others, that help make her character particularly memorable.

Though I didn't find it up to par with Cronenberg's usual brilliance, A Dangerous Method is an excellent film and a worthy addition to the Cronenberg library.

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