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A History of Conformance

A Dangerous Method (2011)

Liam Daniel/Sony Pictures Classics

Many of those who have seen “A Dangerous Method” have complained about it not being Cronenbergian enough. Although it revolves around two titans in the field of psychology, the film isn’t that psycho-thriller you’re expecting and doesn’t showcase anything nearly as spectacular as Miranda Richardson juggling three roles. Think of it instead as the David Cronenberg equivalent of David Lynch’s “The Straight Story.” Essentially, “A Dangerous Method” is a deeply political cautionary tale from a staunch atheist about the price of conformity and repression.

Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) employs the “talking cure” method championed by Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen again) on disturbed young woman Sabrina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) to great success. Jung discovers that Spielrein’s physical ticks and grotesque facial contortions stem from deep-rooted embarrassment associated with a suppressed predilection for sadomasochism, and encourages her to apply herself to the discipline of psychology. Spielrein’s gratitude toward Jung soon blossoms into unrequited love. With a little prodding from his freewheeling patient Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel encore), Jung begins an illicit affair with Spielrein.

Jung later clashes with his mentor, because Freud is adamant about confining psychology strictly to the scientific and dismissing any potential for the spiritual and the supernatural in hopes of preserving credibility in a burgeoning new area of study. As keen as he is to stretch boundaries professionally, Jung opts to be considerably more orthodox in his personal life and wants to keep his marriage intact. The film hints at his wife Emma’s (Sarah Gadon) family fortune as one of his considerations, but who knows?

Given that the body has been Mr. Cronenberg’s career preoccupation, it’s a surprise to see him tackling the mind for a change. One can only conclude that Christopher Hampton’s screenplay (and also play) based on John Kerr’s book resonates with him because of its central message. How does one balance personal fulfillment and the constrictions necessary for maintaining social order? Ultimately, one of the most brilliant minds in history fails himself on the path to enlightenment, and the film’s very last frame is priceless in illustrating Jung’s own startling realization of that fact.


Opens on Nov. 23 in New York and Los Angeles and on Feb. 10, 2012 in the United Kingdom.

Directed by David Cronenberg; written by Christopher Hampton, based on his stage play “The Talking Cure” and the book “A Most Dangerous Method,” by John Kerr; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; production design by James McAteer; costumes by Denise Cronenberg; produced by Jeremy Thomas; released by Sony Pictures Classics (United States) and Lionsgate U.K. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Keira Knightley (Sabina Spielrein), Viggo Mortensen (Sigmund Freud), Michael Fassbender (Carl Jung), Sarah Gadon (Emma Jung) and Vincent Cassel (Otto Gross).


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