A DANGEROUS METHOD is a deeply disappointing movie - dull, vacuous, with a desperately poor central performance by Keira Knightley - little sexual or emotional tension - it rolls through its scenes until it comes to a sudden halt. Frankly, the most exciting that happened during the Gala screening at the BFI London Film Festival was some poor sod having a seizure. Fans of Cronenberg's dark, dangerous films will be underwhelmed, I suspect, and those of us looking for Christopher Hampton's trademark elegant screen-writing will feel let down. And if you want to see Michael Fassbender in psychologically challenging material, look no further than SHAME.
The central conflicts of the movie are almost bourgeois in their banality. The first conflict is between Dr Carl Jung (Fassbender) and his one-time mentor Dr Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Jung thinks not all neuroses have sexual origins, and that psychiatry should also embrace spiritualism. Freud thinks Jung is discrediting an already embattled new field of research with his mystic nonsense. Moreover, the poor Viennese academic resents Jung's rich wife. The second conflict is between Jung and Sabine Spielrein (Knightley), Jung's patient, lover and finally his academic peer. Initially traumatised by her father, whose spankings excited her, Sabine progresses to become a psychiatrist of greater skill than Jung. Moreover, in the Freud-Jung conflict, she sides with Freud. She also escapes their love affair a stronger woman, whereas we are asked to believe that engaging in sado-masochistic sexual practices precipitated Jung's nervous breakdown.
All this should have made for an intellectually challenging, daring, complex film. But it does not. The almost sterile production design; stilted camera-work; and almost coy treatment of the sexual material make for what can only be described as a kind of TV afternoon movie biopic. I am hard-pressed to think of less erotically charged sex scenes, and a movie about overcoming sexual repression where the actors faces seem so wooden. Worst of all, in the early scenes of most acute neuroses, Keira Knightley acts "at" being mad, rather than portraying the emotional truth of the scenes. Her physical contortions are mannered rather than real - the part was simply too challenging for her. Still, the movie could've survived this had the script been more profound, the conflicts mined more fully, and the camera-work more innovative. I wanted to see more of the anti-semitism and mistrust of psychiatry in Vienna. I wanted to see more of the reaction to Otto Gross' (Vincent Cassel) breakdown. This film desperately needed widening out.
A DANGEROUS METHOD played Toronto and Venice 2011. It opened earlier this year in Italy. It opens in Germany on November 10th, in the Netherlands on November 17th, in the USA on November 23rd, in Spain on November 25th, in France on November 30th, in Denmark on January 12th 2012, in Sweden and the UK on February 10th and in Hungary on March 8th.