24 December 2011

Mad, Bad and Sad

A Dangerous Method isn't out in the UK until February so I took the opportunity to see it in Cannes today (fortunately in version originale rather than dubbed into French). This makes the second film this month in which I have seen Michael Fassbender play a sex addict, although as Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, his obsession is often, if not always, an academic one.

A Dangerous Method opens in 1904, as the troubled Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is brought, kicking and screaming, to a hospital in Z├╝rich where Jung intends to treat her using a controversial new technique of one Signund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), known as psychoanalysis or, as Jung puts it, "talking to the patient." Spielrein, it turns out, was abused by her father from a young age but what is really causing her "episodes" is a build-up of the shame of having derived sexual pleasure from the abuse. Yes, thinks Jung, this is very Freudian indeed.

We follow the growing relationship between Jung and Spielrein, the latter becoming the former's lover and muse and, after she recovers, a psychologist herself. Jung loves his fertile wife Emma but she is only the foundations of his house, he says, while Spielrein is the love of his life (another lover is "the perfume in the air").

The movie also examines the relationship between Freud and Jung, Jung initially seeing Freud as a father-figure and mentor and Freud seeing Jung as the son and heir who will continue promoting psychoanalysis after his own demise. But they disagree over the way forward for their field and the dispute is heightened when Freud finds out that Jung has misled him as to the nature of his affair with Spielrein.

There were good performances from the three leads, including Keira, who managed a solid Russian accent and was just hysterical enough for Spielrein's earlier years, toning it down nicely as her character recovers, matures and suffers from a broken heart. Christopher Hampton's screenplay was tight and engaging, even if the time jumps, often of several years, felt a little too frequent, rushing the character and plot development. I can't remember if this film has been suggested as possible Oscar nomination fodder; I suspect it will lose out to bigger and better productions but A Dangerous Method remains a thoughtful and enjoyable story about the relationships between three notable historical figures.

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