A Dangerous Method (2011)

David Cronenberg’s newest leaves a fan dissapointed. A Dangerous Method unfortunately does not trail in Cronenberg’s recent impeccable tradition, and seems, not unlike Freud’s theories, overtly fixated on sex.

A depiction of the early emergence of the psychoanalysist tradition, A Dangerous Method tells the story of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his relationship to his mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and patient (later on lover) Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Despite some great acting on behalf of Mortensen and Fassbender, Cronenberg’s latest is a miss, and here’s why :

1. Keira Knightley doesn’t do a good job in this film. Her character dominates every scene, in the wrong way. I found it hard to concentrate on what was actually happening in the scene whilst watching her over-acting quivering and uneasy anxiousness.

2. The story doesn’t dvelve into the potential of the situations between Freud and Jung. There’s no conflict between the two, there’s no antagonist. The introduction of Vincent Cassel’s Otto Gross comes too late and doesn’t make a dutiful impact.

3. The slow pace and leveled intensity might have worked with Eastern Promises where the topic matter itself was already highly intriguing and tension-filled, but here some of the dialogue centered scenes drag on and the occasional face of Keira Knightley doesn’t help the case at all.

4. The story lacks surprise, twists and captivation. I’m not saying that all films need to hold these qualities, but if that entertainment factor isn’t there, subtlety, characters and dialogue need to shine to a whole new level. Unfortunately the characters here remain unilateral and the dialogue stale.

For a fan of Cronenberg’s, Fassbender’s and Mortensen’s the film remains a disappointment, but still in a slow year of character driven drama it’s still a solid work that has some highlights, especially when it comes to the performances of the two main leads.

Mortensen’s portrayal of Freud seems so realistic that most of the time I forgot I’m actually watching an actor give a performance, and not a real, historical person.

There’s no denying that Mortensen is one of the most dedicated actors working at the moment. He discusses his role and other aspects of the film on Total Film’s website :

I like the fact there was so much available, not just in his writing but in the writing of contemporaries, and particular descriptions of him – what his voice sounded like, how he spoke, how he was generous with his ideas, his sense of humour was very wry. He was a very witty kind of person.

If confronted he could be very cutting and somewhat arrogant, but so could Jung be – they were very proud, and in some way insecure, which makes for interesting drama. All of a sudden these are people like us, they’re not just these great historical personages, these scientists, these thinkers. It made them more human, more like you and me.

They could make jokes, they could be competitive, they could be ambitious, they could be jealous – they could be very affectionate in their way as well. All those things made it a lot more interesting to play.

A Dangerous Method won’t be joining the ranks of David Cronenberg’s best achievements, or any other top lists for that matter. Let’s hope that his next piece, an adaptation of the marvellous Don DeLillo’s work, Cosmopolis brings him out of this one movie slump.

You Will Like A Dangerous Method if…

– you’re a fan of Keira Knightley’s obsessive pout.
– you’re extremely interested in psychoanalysis’ first steps.

6 / 10

Opens in the UK tomorrow, the 10th of February.


32 responses to “A Dangerous Method (2011)

  1. In firm defense of Keira (who I think gives a fantastic performance) it is, I think, a performance meant to unnerve, disgust and induce anxiety. Watching her move from shrill and overly incensed to calm and almost reticent is impressive and she turns into the thing which holds the varying strands of the narrative together, for me.

    • Fair enough, I just found it to be over-acting and cringe-inducing most of the time. Her quieter moments were fine, but that scene with her describing the abuse she’s experienced doubled with the terrible accent wasn’t by my standards (hopefully anyone’s) good acting :s Sometimes subtle is better than loud, especially if you do loud badly.

      • Sure, then Cronenberg has really bad taste in female actresses (which I would find surprising since he did so well with Bello and Watts f.e.) if that quivering, panting, unsexy mess is something he wanted in his film.

      • “Sometimes subtle is better than loud”

        Yes, sometimes. And sometimes whispering is better than shouting.
        But not – I’d suggest – if you’re doing a film about the history of shouting.

      • Because psychoanalysis is shouting? I don’t know .. I just felt the film was too much what was wrong with Freud’s theory, sex. I understand that maybe the method itself isn’t as media sexy as sex itself, but I’d rather seen something different than a film focused on spanking, since I don’t see that as the main focs of Jung, Freud or psychoanalysis.

  2. Good review. The performances are good, even though Knightley may be over-acting quite a bit, and it looks great, but the film also just feels like a series of vignettes with no real feeling or drama to it. Basically what I’m trying to say was that I was bored and this story just never really got off the ground.

    • I loved the scenery, the vintage feel of the compositions and editing. It’s just not exciting in any way, which is a bit underwhelming for a film that’s all about sex.

  3. I’m not as familiar w/ Cronenberg’s work, having only seen The Fly, but I’m curious about this one even despite Keira’s obvious over-acting even in the trailer. So even Fassbender/Mortensen’s performances still don’t outweigh the bad parts about this one?

    • Well a 6/10 for a Cronenberg film is a 7 or a 8/10 in general.
      It’s just that for 70% of the movie Knightley is predominantly in the forefront. And as I mentioned there are issues with the script, the pacing, the story in general, the over-emphasis on sex… So unfortunately, as much as I would love to love this film, I merely like it ok.

  4. I really wanted to see this when it was first announced, but then it never opened near me. Then it got luke warm reviews and I’ve lost interest. I enjoy History of Violence and Eastern Promises, so I still think I should see this. Thoughts?

    • Compared to those two it is indeed lukewarm. I am being harsher on this since I did love those two (and Spider, which I think could be in the same group stylistically then the two Mortensen joints). It’s not a bad film by any measure, it’s just not the level of great that Cronenberg usually delivers.

  5. I absolutely agree with all your criticisms. I like Cronenberg very much, I like Knightley too. I am also very interested in psychiatry and psychoanalytic approach, but that was not enough to keep me interested in this film. It just again proves that today they are making trailers to films which outshine tremendously the films themselves. I absolutely revered the trailer to ‘A Dangerous Method’, but the film was such a disappointment. I didn’t believe in ‘love’ developed between Jung and Sabina for one single minute and for female audience I think its important. Personally, it pains me to write an honest review to this film as I put so much hope into this film and it could have been so much more interesting and captivating.

    • At times I felt there was an Woody Allen-esque love of the scenery that I found to drag the film down at points.

      I think I need to watch Spider again soon, to make me adore Cronenberg again. He’s changed a lot as a director, and I thought A History of Violence was an underrated masterpiece! Hopefully he gets back on track for the next one.

      • Haha. These two – ‘Spider’ and ‘History of Violence’ are my all time Cronenberg’s favourites. I think both ‘Spider’ and ‘History of Violence’ are so underrated. These two films both contain so much ‘deep meaning’ – they are very thought-provoking. I also think Cronenberg is kinda ‘evolving’ if you like. ‘Videodrome’ and ‘Fly’ were kinda different from ‘A History of Violence’ and ‘Eastern Promises’ in terms of ‘shock’ factor and ‘horror depiction’, and I think now ‘A Dangerous Method’ is different from these two films – being much more ‘subdued’ and ‘quieted down’.

      • Absolutely, he has a lot of different styles, and is experimenting with his abilities. I just didn’t enjoy this lackluster, anyone coulda dunnit type feel that I got from A Dangerous Method!

  6. I take it you didn’t read the Cronenberg interview I linked then. But as I suspected your objections seem to be more about the actress than the performance as such.

    As for my other point, which you pretended not to understand…

    This isn’t a film about some fictional patient which Jung might have treated. It’s about a specific patient who had very specific and well known symptoms. And they’re not something which could in any conceivable way be conveyed using “subtlety”.

    It’s evident that you’d prefer the film to be about something other than what it is, but that can never be a valid criticism of the work that’s actually been produced.

    • What preferring a film to be more interesting, better written and with a better performance by the lead? Why is wanting the same ingredients to be something better wrong? I’m not saying it’s a “valid criticism”, I’m just expressing my opinion that I wish the film would’ve been better. Matters of opinion are always up for debate, that’s why they are not always analytically perfect, but I don’t feel like that’s the point anyway.

      I didn’t mean that the symptoms needed to be subtle. I’m just saying I would have found the film more impactful if it hadn’t been “on” all the time, with great sexual intensity all the time. If those moments of anxiety and panic Knightley’s character felt would’ve been glimpses of her symptoms, and not constant moaning and yelling and spanking, I think the film would’ve been better. Obviously this is a director’s choice of pacing and structure. I am just saying I found it to be a flaw. If I wish one of my favourite directors should’ve done a better job on multiple fronts.

      My opinion is
      a) Cronenberg has usually produced films that are interesting and good.
      b) The subject matter of this film is interesting.
      c) I do not feel Cronenberg did his best work with this film due to a leading actress whose skills are less than desirable and a script that just didn’t match up.
      d) Compared to Cronenberg’s other work this film isn’t that good.
      e) Compared to other films from 2011 it’s just fine.

      I don’t feel there’s a need to get so provocative over one film review. I do not “pretend” to do anything.

      • I actually like that image, as if Keira Knightley is consciously drawing a caricature of herself and baring her body for those who make fun of it. Chin, posture, ‘anorexia,’ all of it that the haters have speculated, Cronenberg has always been about distorting the body, and his work in the past six years or so have given us the most unnerving and transformative monsters in horror mash-ups.

        Knightley has always played intelligent characters – the dumbest she’s ever been was in Never Let Me Go which surprisingly is her at her undisputed best, Her Elizabeth Bennett is problematic for Austenites but her slouch adds a modesty to a character whom other would have seen as stuck up. Her Sabina is a woman who’s always on the watch if she regresses, which makes her performance curious to say the least.

  7. As a litmus test, I brought a friend of mine along to the film not telling her much except for what I knew she already was aware of – it starred Viggo, Keira and Fassbender. Told me nothing about who was directing it or how much I knew about the story.

    Afterwards I asked her what she thought of the film and she said she quite liked it. I then mentioned I purposely did not mention Cronenberg’s attachment to the film but what did she think of it anyways. She said when she saw his name she was a bit taken aback and did not know what to expect but in the end was pleasantly surprised.

    While I am not a devotee of Cronenberg, I do enjoy bits of his body of work. This was definitely a sharp turn, stylistically and thematically, but taking everything into consideration, I had no real objections to the film, and was taken with Viggo’s Freud more than anything else. Viggo in a word, is AWESOME.

    • Indeed Viggo needs to do more work, he’s great. I’m guessing he takes a lot of time to dwelve deep into a role hence the not so frequent appearances on the big screen.

  8. I think I am going to pass on seeing this anytime in the forseeable future. I liked the direction Cronenberg had been going in recently. However, your review seems to suggest this film is quite a departure from his recent efforts. Nice post

  9. Interesting review. I haven’t seen this one but remember seeing the trailer – I think the story had a lot of potential. Being one who enjoys history and biographical films from time to time, it did intrigue me a bit. Nice to hear your thoughts on it! :)

  10. That’s a shame, I haven;t seen this yet but have heard mixed reviews about it. Many people highlight Keira Knightley’s odd performance but I noticed BBC film critic Mark Kermode said that it isn’t her fault but Cronenberg’s in that he has asked her to act in that way. I’d blame Knightley myself.

  11. Great review! I agree there is not much conflict between Freud and Jung. The boat trip to the US was disappointing, as that plot point didn’t really go anywhere.

    The main thing I got out of the film was how the doctor’s own feelings got in the way a little bit in psychoanalysis when treating a patient. They hadn’t learnt to distance themselves.
    Did seem to capture the costumes and setting well(without much knowledge of the era on my part)

    • I just assumed Freud would be like ‘Who’s this bitch all up in here’ to Jung .. :-(
      It’s certainly stylish and I dug the classic cinematography!

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