A Dangerous Method (2011) The Distinction Between A Patient And A Lover?


A Dangerous Method was directed by David Cronenberg who used to be known for making films such as The Fly (1986), eXistenZ (1999) and Eastern Promises (2007). These have been of a horror and thriller genre, Cronenberg could be seen as a Freudian filmmaker because of the topics he explores in a way that causes mayhem on an audiences mind and body. Cronenberg’s latest films show that he has remodelled himself as a classicist, a master of understatement, which is illustrated in this films style. The film is based on a play called The Talking Cure, screenplay written by Christopher Hampton. He has also written screenplays for films such as Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and Atonement (2007).

The film is a period drama based in the early 20th century, in Switzerland. Focusing on Carl Jung, a student of psychotherapy’s Sigmund Freud. Jung starts to treat a mentally disturbed young woman, who was abused by her father. As the film progresses the relationship between the two becomes more intimate and dangerous to both their reputations and sanity, Jung begins to wonder about Freud’s theories, that they are flawed. A Dangerous Method looks objectively; historically at the early days of psychoanalysis and the relationship between Freud and Jung as their lives take them to different theories and beliefs.

A Dangerous Method is strongly upheld on the principles of performance. Keira Knightley plays Sabina Spielrein. Her performance is alarming and physical as Sabina is Jung’s patient and lover. The audience’s first introduction to Sabina is her arrival to Jung’s clinic, where she is restrained, writhing, grunting and propping her chin out at a violent direction. It is a thoroughly unsettling sight, one that the audience will have trouble recovering from. This then sets the theme of the film, a serious take on disturbed minds, trying to understand the mentally ill. The mentally ill are unsettling, they make people nervous and upset, these are the motifs for the film.


Keira Knightley’s character Sabina is a complicated one; her mental state is that of trauma but also self-inflicted. She is presented to the audience in a manner that makes us unsympathetic to her emotions, even when she is cured from her mental issues. According to Keira Knightley, the character of Sabina was a hard character to portray, because of this hysteria. The screenplay wrote that Sabina’s condition was much like a demon or a dog. This was then used as inspiration for Knightley’s performance as Sabina, the degree to her research into getting the character correct, this helps make for a more outstanding performance by Knightley.

Viggo Mortensen plays the father of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud. To prepare for the weighty role of Freud; one of the most famous psychoanalysists, Mortensen read everything he could on Freud, he even visited his actual house in order to get into character of the amazing man that was Freud. Michael Fassbender plays Carl Jung, psychiatrist and psychotherapist. The scenes between Jung and Freud were less than what was expected, two famous psychiatrists in a room would be more interesting than talking of dreams. It was just a lot of chat, though this should have been a fascinating conversation, on theories discussed and argued over for years, is it all about sex as Freud’s debates or as Jung suspects is there more to it than that?

A dangerous method is a precisely made film, somewhat a traditionalist account of the two men’s scuffle for conceptual authority, the scenes where they are together should be a ferociously, interesting clash but the screen play and film is not able to put the two together often enough with enough chemistry to truly convey the promised intellectual repartee that is promised by the films plot, yet it never arrives. The final scene between Sabina and Jung, explores the themes of overcoming mental illness, as Sabina is now the sane one, and Jung is suffering from depression, the role of patient being reversed.

This is further explored by the shot reverse shots used during their conversation, this helps to develop the change in character roles. The films cinematography was done by Peter Suschitzky who has worked on films such as Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), A History of Violence (2005), Eastern Promises (2007) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). He has been nominated for one BAFTA film nomination; this shows the level of skill Suschitzky has. In A Dangerous Method the cinematography is stylised in an unseen, concealed manner. This could have been done to allow for a more realistic, historical depiction of Jung and Freud’s encounters.

The film’s main focus in terms of techniques are performance, the cinematography is made to be indirect, and the music used is composed by Howard Shore who is a famous composer in the film industry, having won 3 Oscars. His most famous work was on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012). The music has an intense, deep, passionate rhythm, in scenes of Sabine’s mental illness, this helps to make the experience that bit more concentrated for the audience allowing for a more alarming experience. The music works with the actor’s performance to create a more intense experience for the audience, improving the films enjoyability.

The film is an engrossing and thought provoking drama, with a top billed cast, Knightley and Fassbender in particular, as their performance is more dominate in the film. Cronenberg purposely avoids conventional films about psychoanalysis that are excessive and clearly dream-like, a-typical psychoanalysis film. A Dangerous Method is restrained, though visually beautiful however; the film does feel repressed with the potential that it could have achieved. It is a shame it was not able to create the right level of chemistry between the characters, especially the historical context and history that lead with Freud and Jung. It just misses its mark, for myself. This being said, it is still a highly interesting and thrilling film to watch.



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