I’m not sure what to make of this movie. A Dangerous Method (2011) depicts the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightly) and their work as psychoanalysts. Part of my misgivings is not knowing how much of the offered narrative is true – while I’m aware that it’s based on a book, I haven’t read that book and I can only assume that a lot of weight was given to the sexual relationship between Jung and Spielrein because, you know, that’s what sells movies. How much of that actually affected the trio’s work is unknown, at least to me.
Truly, this relationship is the center of this story. Spielrein is entered into Jung’s care with a case of “hysteria” and through the Talking Cure, a method developed by Freud, it is found that she suffers from trauma owing to finding herself sexually aroused when her father would spank her naked. Which, of course, later leads to spanking scenes in the midst of Jung and Spielrein’s affair. On the one hand, it’s great that the film works to give Spielrein her due as an influential figure in the field of psychoanalysis – many of her discoveries about the human psyche were born from her personal experiences with childhood trauma. On the other hand, I can’t help but think that’s it’s essentially soft-core porn, a movie made for those who want sexual stimulation in a socially sanctioned way. I suppose that’s not terrible – I’m guilty of watching True Blood, after all – but it does somewhat harm the quality of what could have otherwise been an interesting biopic about a highly intelligent and driven, yet damaged woman.
I will, however, tip my hat to the acting. Keira Knightly does a fantastic job of playing a woman who is on the brink of becoming unhinged, yet also struggling to understand why this is happening to her. Her portrayal of Spielrein is never weak or saccharine, even when she’s begging Jung not to end their affair. Viggo Mortensen is appropriately stoic as Freud, maintaining a distance when he learns of Jung’s involvement with his patient. I typically love Michael Fassbender and I suppose he does a fine job here, but I never found myself really sympathizing with Jung’s decision to embark on the affair. He’s not a villain by any means, but he’s certainly no hero in this story.
It’s a decent film all around, but one that focuses far too much on showing deviance for it’s titillation value.