A Dangerous Method: When a Cigar is Definitely Not Just a Cigar

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When I found out that a movie was being made starring Viggo Mortenson as Sigmund Freud, I was so excited. Just seeing him in trailers with a cigar in his mouth was enough to make me want to see it, and I eagerly awaited A Dangerous Method’s release into theaters. I couldn’t wait for all the penis jokes it would offer me.. Inevitably, I never got the opportunity of seeing the movie in theaters, so NetFlix once again came to my aid. And I was not disappointed.

A Dangerous Method is a Canadian Film released in 2011 and directed by David Cronenberg. Set in pre-WW1 Europe, the plot follows the turbulent relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (Kiera Knightley) who is first his patient and later his lover. Jung’s treatment of Sabina leads him to the founder of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson) who he begins to worship a a father figure. Years later, controversy unravels as Jung and Sabina’s affair comes out in public, and eventually leads to the undoing of Jung’s strong relationship with Freud.

I loved so many things about this movie. Where do I start? The early 20th century setting was very convincing, and the costumes were great (although there is a scene where Kiera Kightley wears a very unfortunate hat that looks like a giant white beehive). The writing is subtle and powerful. The dialogue is natural. But I really loved the acting. I don’t know who was better: Kiera Knightley or Viggo Mortenson. I am a big Viggo Mortenson fan, both because I love the Lord of the Rings (yes, I am one of those people) and he commits to every role I see him in. Mortenson was amazing as Freud. He completely absorbed the character. He was able to take on all of Freud’s eccentricities and features that we all laugh at now very naturally. Even in the scene when he’s analyzing a dream for Jung and tells him that a log in his dream represents the penis, his delivery was completely serious. But then Kiera Knightley was also great as Sabina. A lot of times when actors take on a foreign accent, I can detect slips every now and then (prime example, I love Christoph Waltz, but as he proved in Water for Elephants, he cannot do an American accent). However, Knightley’s Russian accent never faltered. Her performance of a mad, disturbed young woman was convincing and heart wrenching.

I also found the ending very multi-dimensional. In one sense, it shows the close both of Jung’s relationship with Sabine and with Freud. However, in the scene, Jung tells Sabine about a recurring dream he’s been having about Europe full of blood and corpses. He tells her he has no idea what it means, but this dream quite obviously foreshadows WWI and eventually WWII in which the real life Sabine Spielrein dies in at the hands of the Nazis. Giving Jung a prescient dream may be the director going as far as validating Jung’s theories of dreams. Or it could just be a nod of respect.

There is one small plot hole that is revealed toward the ending. A significant conflict in the film is that Jung feels he can no longer keep up his affair with Sabine for moral reasons, so he breaks it off with her. However, at the end of the film, he reveals that he has a new mistress. What changed? I think the movie tries to explain it but falls short. When Sabine asks him how he can keep the affair going he says “Emma (his wife) is the foundation of my household, and Toni (his mistress) is the perfume of the air.” But why was he not able to create such a compartmentalization when he was with Sabine?

However, that flaw is not very significant considering everything else this film has achieved. I simply loved it, and give it an 8 out of 10.

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