I recently saw an exhibit at Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University featuring art created by patients of 20th century psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. Historically, the therapeutic art led Jung’s patients to self-discoveries serving as a creative window into their mental state. The colorful mandalas (ink on paper) prove that order can be found in a chaotic mind. Inspired by the exhibit, I decided to screen A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011), a film that further illuminates the work of Jung and his relationship with the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.
Method follows the early work of Jung, his relationship with patient Sabina Spielrein, and his tumultuous connection with Freud – all based on historical events. The screenplay by Christopher Hampton is less impressive than his earlier Atonement (Joe Wright, 2008); it lacks direction and focus, rambling through the years in Switzerland and Vienna, not stopping long enough to paint an accurate picture. However, Peter Suschitzky’s photography forgives Hampton’s writing with his deep focus framing and overhead shots. The countless conversations between Jung and Sabina, or Jung and Freud, are shot in deep focus to highlight the dynamic relationship between Jung and his patients and mentor. Jung psychoanalyses from behind which allows the camera to capture expression from both the patient and the doctor. As viewers, we are given the choice of which character to focus on in the frame, thus increasing spectator interaction with the film itself.
The first half of the film focuses on Sabina and her deep rooted sexual feelings towards her abusive father. Jung takes her on as a patient using his novel “talk therapy.” Like Freud, he wants to get to the root of the patient’s issue. However, contrary to Freud he pushes the patient to address the problems and work toward change. If Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, Jung is his son who has Oedipal issues. Jung and Freud eventually come to an impasse and go their separate theoretical ways.
David Cronenberg, known for carnage on screen, attempts a subtler palette with Method. There is no blood or violence, except recounted, but there is the palatable horror of mental distress. To see Keira Knightly as Sabina writhing in anguish reminds viewers of a torture scene. In juxtaposition to this pain, we find the quiet solace that Sabina and Jung find in each other later in the film. The overhead shot of the lovers lying in the sailboat evokes a peaceful pause to the chaos. Howard Shore’s score is a lilting piano melody as the sailboat floats past.
A Dangerous Method received nominations at the festival circuit last year due largely to the acting. Keira Knightly plays Sabina with a ferocious and dedicated intensity. Her face twists in contortion as she recounts the first time her father hit her and the pleasure she experienced. Michael Fassbender is Jung with a quiet intelligence and conflicted loyalties; his character exudes a gracious subtlety. However, the dynamic between Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen’s Freud lacks adequate tension and passion. Casually hysterical, Vincent Cassel is Otto, a “recovering” nymphomaniac, polygamist and psychiatrist. He eventually escapes Jung’s hospital but only after diddling the maid in the apple orchard.
Overall, a good film based on excellent material delivered by Knightly and Fassbender.
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