Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Dangerous Method

The world of psychoanalysis is a strange and foreign land. In that respect, this film which deals with the academic debate between Sigmund Freud (Michael Fassbender) and Carl Gustav Jung (Viggo Mortensen) in the early developmental stages of the discipline (early 1900's) is true to form. Sadly it fails to rise above anything other than a docu-drama of how Jung was initially drawn to Freud and his ideas and how they eventually parted company because of a major disagreement on how best to proceed. I have it on good authority from two folk I know who are trained in the dark arts of psychoanalysis, that this film offers little by way of enlightenment in terms of the discipline or for that matter as a piece of drama. Added to which a film supposedly set in Zurich and Vienna seems to have been largely shot in Luzern and Konstanz!

The characterisations of the two main protagonists is convincing - particularly Fassbender's Freud whom he plays as an inscrutable Professor who is seemingly fixated on sexual activity and has sired a family of seven children! Mortensen's Jung is more reserved and controlled as he develops his own take on the theory through his practice in Zurich. This includes engaging in therapy with many hysterical women (a not uncommon state among many at the time) including the Russian Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightly). It may well be the gurning, but Knightly's Russian accent is far from convincing. Knightly's facial contortions graphically depict the affliction and we are given a glimpse of an insight into the workings of psychoanalysis through the therapeutic sessions she undergoes.

Jung manages, almost too quickly, to establish that her hysteria is a reaction to her being humiliated. The slightest humiliation brings on an attack. Further therapy uncovers the truth that as a child she was beaten on her bottom by her father and that at the age of four this produced a sexual stimulation in her that became addictive turning the whole behaviour into a self-reinforcing cycle. The therapy naturally turns into sessions where Spielrein gets strapped to a bed and flayed by Jung and naturally enough one thing leads to another - all in the name of therapy of course! Jung's therapy is so effective and Spielrein's natural ability so strong, that she herself studies and becomes qualified to practice in this new discipline.

Freud's fixation on ego, id and libido is presented as being too restrictive for Jung who is always drawn to interpret dreams and include other disciplines and areas of life and psychology to inform his psychoanalysis. The script is at times dense and academic with little sense of drama or character development. There is little to draw you to any of the characters.

This film had the potential to deliver more - much more. It is sadly safe and only supports the stereotypes which history has given us, without providing any real insight. Knightly's performance is strong and stands above the others. Wait for it to come around on TV. I'll give it 5/10.

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